The Gospel in Galatians
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
Throughout Chapter 1 and 2 of Galatians, which we have already covered in previous studies, the great apostle Paul had been strongly defending the divine origin of his apostolic calling and the gospel of grace he preached. Now, beginning with Chapter 3 of Galatians, the apostle turns to the Galatians themselves and their own experience with regards to their initial response to the gospel message. Our study will cover the first nine verses of chapter three. Let us read these first nine verses before we analyze what Paul is saying here:
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain — if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Notice that this passage we just read is divided into two parts. Verses 1-5 deal with the experience of the Galatian Christians by way of a series of questions and then, in verses 6-9, Paul is speaking of Abraham who is the father of all who believe. He is dealing with Abraham as our example, as our prototype, and with how the gospel saves us individually.
With this introduction, let us look carefully at this passage and see what lesson we can draw out of it for we who are living today. Paul begins by a very strong statement:
You foolish Galatians!
The word “foolish” really means “unthinking” or “idiotic,” implying irrational behavior or stupidity. If Paul was living today, he very likely would have said, “You stupid” or “idiotic Galatians.” Any Christian who turns from the glorious gospel of salvation by grace alone and desires to be saved by his own personal good works really deserves to be called foolish for that is pure stupidity.
It is just like a farmer who deliberately gives up using his tractor to plow his land and goes back to plowing by oxen. Paul feels that their behavior was so irrational that he wondered if someone had not cast a spell on them. Please notice what he says:
Who has bewitched you?
“Who has cast a spell on you?” The word “who” here is in the singular, but the Judaizers, who had caused the problem, were really a group of people. Therefore, the implication is that, behind the Judaizers, was the enemy of all souls, which is Satan. In 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, Paul tells the Corinthian believers that just as the devil deceived Eve, Paul is afraid that Satan might use the same deceptive method to deceive them and bring them another gospel that doesn’t belong to the truth:
But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
Paul is concerned that the Galatians had turned their backs to the one and only hope of salvation, Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He is stating to them by a question, “Tell me, you who obeyed the truth, did you obey the fact that Jesus Christ was portrayed before you crucified?” The message that Paul had brought to the Galatians was Jesus Christ and Him crucified, man’s only hope. This was at the very heart of Paul’s message. In 1 Corinthians 1:17-18, Paul identifies the cross of Christ with the gospel, the power of God for salvation. He says that this message is foolishness to those who do not believe but to us who believe, the cross is the power of God for salvation:
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel — not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Then, in chapter 2 of 1 Corinthians, in the first two verses, Paul tells us that the main emphasis of his message when he came to Corinth, was Jesus Christ and Him crucified:
And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
“I wanted to know nothing else among you when I came to you,” Paul says, “except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” This is the heart of the gospel message. Man’s redemption is centered around the cross of Christ.
Paul then tells the Galatians, “Tell me.” he says in verse 2 of Galatians 3, “I want to learn this from you. Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing of faith:”
I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?
And here Paul describes the two fundamental methods of salvation. The phrase “works of the law” is a typical Pauline expression referring to legalism or salvation by our own good works or observing the law. There was no Greek word in Paul’s day equivalent to our English word “legalism.” So, whenever you come across that phrase “works of the law,” that is what it means.
Paul is not against the law, but he is against anyone using the law as a method or as a means of salvation. When we come to chapter 5 of Galatians, we will discover that Paul does uphold the law as a standard of Christian living. But, as a means of salvation, there is only one way you and I can go to heaven and that is through Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Paul is saying in verse 2 of Galatians 3: “Did you receive the Spirit by the observance of the law, using the law as a method of salvation, or did you receive the Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior?”
Under the law, the law requires us personally to obey it. We cannot receive any help from outside of ourselves. The law demands we, as individuals, obey it perfectly and continually if we want to be saved through the law. It is only under grace that God supplies us the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is not to save us since we are saved by the doing and dying of Christ. But the work of the Holy Spirit is to make real in our experience what is ours through faith in Jesus Christ.
The answer to this question is obvious. The Galatians received the Holy Spirit by accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior. The new birth experience does not come to the legalist. It comes only to those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. That is why Jesus had to remind Nicodemus that all his performance could not save him. He had to be born from above. In John 3:6, Jesus says:
Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh. You need, Nicodemus, to be born from above, otherwise you can never enter the kingdom of heaven.” We are born from above only by faith in Jesus Christ.
Now, in verse 3 of Galatians 3, Paul reminds them, “after beginning by means of the Spirit.” Are you so foolish? How can you be so stupid? You began on the platform of justification by faith; you by faith entered under the umbrella of grace and now, having had this wonderful experience of salvation by faith alone in the righteousness of Christ, you turn back to legalism. How stupid can you be? Paul says to the Galatians, “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?”
Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?
What is Paul trying to tell them here? Paul is saying here that the righteousness we received through faith in Jesus Christ is a perfect, a complete righteousness. We cannot add to it and we cannot improve on it. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:4, the moment we try to do this, we have fallen from grace:
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
It is either all of Christ’s righteousness or none of it. The moment we try to improve our standing before God by our own performance, we are denying the perfect righteousness of Christ which qualifies us for heaven. Justification is by faith alone.
Then he reminds the Galatians in verse 4:
Have you experienced so much in vain — if it really was in vain?
When the Galatians first accepted the gospel, they came under persecution. They were opposed by those who rejected the gospel. They were persecuted by the enemies of Jesus Christ. And they were willing to suffer because the joy of salvation was greater than all the suffering that they were involved in through the persecution they came under. Now Paul is reminding them, “You suffered so greatly. You were willing to give up so much for this gospel. What has happened now? Why have you changed your mind?” Then, in verse 5 he says:
So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?
The Judaizers, the Jewish Christians, had convinced the Galatians that salvation by faith alone is not enough. They had to add their own performance to that. They had to be circumcised. They had to do good works and they had to keep the law. But, Paul is saying, “Tell me, were you accepted as a child of God? Were you justified by faith alone or by faith plus some other things that you added to your performance?” The answer is obvious. Man is justified by faith alone. There is nothing we can add to our salvation. Thank God for that because all our righteousness, Isaiah says in chapter 64, verse 6, is like filthy rags:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
Why? Because it is polluted with self. The only righteousness that qualifies us for heaven is the righteousness of Christ. And that righteousness is made effective by faith alone, not by faith plus something else.
Having reminded them of their own personal experience when they first accepted the gospel, Paul now turns his attention to Abraham in verse 6 of Galatians 3:
So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Why Abraham? Remember, the Judaizers were Jews. To them, Abraham was their father and, to the Jews, the father meant not only somebody who created or produced them but also somebody who was their prototype, their example. He is reminding these Galatian Christians, who were Gentiles, that even the father of the Jews, who also happens to be the father of all who believe, was saved by faith alone. Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 where we are told so clearly that Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness:
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
In verse 7 [of Galatians 3], he adds:
Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.
Then he quotes the Old Testament Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the nations, not just the Jews, but the human race, the Gentiles included, by faith alone (verse 8):
Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”
In Romans 4:13-14, the great apostle Paul speaks about Abraham as the father of all who believe:
It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless...
The moment we add our own performance to our salvation, then we are denying that we are saved by grace alone. Romans 4:15:
...because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
The law does not save us; it condemns. It does the very opposite of what the gospel does because the law constantly demands perfect obedience, from a person who is to be saved through the law. Paul adds, in verse 16:
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring...
Then he defines what he means by “all Abraham’s offspring” or all the descendants of Abraham:
...to all Abraham’s offspring — not only to those who are of the law [the Jews, who are the physical descendants of Abraham] but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
“Us all” means all the believers, Jews and Gentiles. In what sense is Abraham our father? He brings this out in verses 17-18:
As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed — the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
The context in which Paul makes this statement is the birth of Isaac. God had promised Abraham a son when he was 75 years old. Abraham believed and was counted righteous. But God waited until it was impossible for Sara to have a child the normal way. God waited almost 25 years until Sara had passed the age of childbearing. He waited until it was impossible for Abraham himself to produce a child through Sara because she had now passed the age of childbearing.
Then God came to Abraham and said, “Do you believe that I can give you a child?” Against hope, against all scientific evidence, against all human rationale, Abraham believed because faith is taking God at His Word. Faith is not based on our feelings or our performance or what the scientific method tells us. Faith is based on the Word of God. Faith is taking God at His Word and, when God justifies a sinner through faith in Jesus Christ, the believer believes that he stands righteous in Christ even though he may not feel righteous. Paul is saying this is how Abraham was justified. He is the prototype of all believers. In Galatians 3:7, speaking to the Galatians, Paul says:
Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.
This is how we today, are justified, by faith alone in Jesus Christ.
Paul continues in Galatians 3:8-9:
Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
God promised Abraham that one of his children would be the Messiah and, in chapter 4 of Galatians, Paul defined that seed, singular, as Christ. Through Him, not only the Jews but the whole human race, will be saved. This salvation is made effective by faith alone. So then, those who are of faith, are blessed along with believing Abraham. When we study Galatians 3:27-29, we will discover that there is only one way God saved mankind. Whether a person lived in Old Testament times, or in New Testament times, whether a male or a female, a Jew or a Gentile, educated or uneducated, there is only one way that mankind is saved. There is only one way we can be the spiritual descendants of Abraham. Paul says in Galatians 3:26:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith....
Isn’t that beautiful? We are all children of God. Yes, through the Fall, we became the children of the devil, but, through grace, we have become children of God. This becomes a reality the moment you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior.
Paul adds in verse 27:
...for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
This is why Jesus in Mark 16:15-16 commissioned the disciples:
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Paul is reminding the Christians that as many of us who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. We have become one with Christ. His life becomes our life. His death becomes our death. His burial becomes our burial and His resurrection becomes our resurrection. Galatians 3:28:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Then, in verse 29, we read these words:
If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
The mistake the Jews made was in believing that the physical descendants or the literal descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob constitute Israel or God’s people. But Paul makes it clear in Romans 9 and here in Galatians 3, that it is having the faith of Abraham which makes a true Israelite. In Romans 9, a true Israelite is one who has the faith of Abraham, who has experienced the new birth as Isaac who was born from above and whose faith endures to the end like Jacob when his name was changed from Jacob, “the schemer,” to Israel, the “one who prevailed.”
What is Paul saying here? He is saying to the Galatians how absolutely foolish they are to turn from the pure gospel of grace alone to salvation by faith plus works. This is something we must not do. There is no way that we can marry these two methods of salvation. It is either salvation by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ or salvation by our performance, by works, by keeping the law, by being circumcised. We can only have one or the other. We cannot mix the two.
In concluding, we will examine four reasons why we cannot mix the two methods of salvation, because the moment we do, we are in trouble. Salvation is by grace alone.
It is my prayer that you will realize that you cannot mix the two methods of salvation, that you will accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and nothing else, for Jesus said you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. By the word “Truth,” He meant Himself. John 8:36 says:
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.It is my prayer that not only have you been set free in Jesus Christ, but that it is your determined purpose that nothing, no human being, no philosophy will ever sidetrack you from this wonderful truth of salvation by grace alone which is made effective by faith in Jesus Christ.