Galatians 3

The apostle calls them "foolish" or senseless, for they had not themselves had the spiritual sense to see whither these false teachers had been leading them. They had been like men bewitched, and under a spell of evil, and they had been led to the brink of the awful conclusion that Christ had died for nothing-that His death had been in fact a huge mistake! On the edge of this precipice they were standing, and the Apostle's pungent reasoning had come as a flash of light amidst their darkness, revealing their danger!

What made their folly so pronounced was the fact that formerly there had been such a faithful preaching among them of Christ crucified. Paul himself had evangelized them, and as with the Corinthians so with the Galatians, the cross had been his great theme. It was as though Christ had been crucified before their very eyes.

Moreover, as a result of receiving the word of the cross, which Paul brought, they had received the Holy Spirit, as verse 2 implies. Well, in what way and on what principle had they received the Spirit? By the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? There was but one answer to this question. For the Galatians to reply, "We received the Spirit by the works of the law," was an absolute impossibility, as Paul knew right well.

Hence he does not pause to answer his own question, but at once passes, in verse 3, to further questions based upon it. Having received the Spirit by the hearing of faith were they going to be made perfect by the flesh? Does God begin with us on one principle and then carry things to completion on another and opposing principle? Men are erratic enough. They change about in this fashion when their earlier plans miscarry. But is God erratic? Do His plans ever miscarry so that He needs to change? The Galatians were senseless, but were they SO senseless as to imagine that? And were they themselves prepared to change, and to throw away as worthless all they had previously held and done; so that their earlier sufferings for Christ had all to be treated as in vain, as null and void? What questions these were! As we read them are we not conscious of their crushing force?

But why did the Apostle speak of out being made perfect by the flesh? Firstly, because it is that which is particularly opposed to the Spirit; and secondly, because it is closely related to the law. It completes the quartette contained in verses 3 and 4. Faith and the Spirit are linked together. The Spirit is received as the result of the hearing of faith, and He is the power of that new life which we have in Christ. The law and the flesh are linked together. The law was given that the flesh might fulfil it, if it could do so. In result it could not. Nor could the law put an effectual curb on the propensities of the flesh; for the flesh "is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8: 7). Yet here were the Galatians inclined to turn from the all-powerful Spirit to the flesh, which though powerful for evil was wholly impotent for good. It was folly indeed!

In verse 5 the Apostle repeats his question of verse 2, only in another form. In verse 2 it concerned the Galatians. How did they receive the Spirit? Here it concerns himself. In what way and on what principle did he labour when he came amongst them with the Gospel message? Miracles were wrought amongst them and when the Gospel was believed the Spirit of God was received. Was it all on the ground of works, or of faith? Once more he does not pause for a reply, knowing right well that only one answer could be given by the Galatians. Instead he at once appeals to the case of Abraham, that they might realize that before ever the law was instituted God had established faith as the way of blessing for man.

From the very outset faith was the way of man's blessing, as Hebrews 11 reveals so clearly. With Abraham, however, the fact came clearly to light even in Old Testament times. Genesis 15: 6 plainly declared it, and that verse is quoted here, as also in Romans 4: 3 and James 2: 23. Abraham was the father of the Jewish race, who had circumcision as their outward sign, but he was also, in a deeper and spiritual sense, "the father of all them that believe" (Rom. 4: 11).

The Judaising teachers had been trying to persuade the Galatians to adopt circumcision, that thereby they might put themselves into a kind of Jewish position, becoming children of Abraham in an outward way. It would have been a poor imitation thing, if compared only with the true-born Israelite. And all the while, if they were "of faith," that is, believers, they were children of Abraham, and that in the deepest possible sense, as verse 7 makes manifest.

Every believer is a child of Abraham in a spiritual sense; and not only so, but as verse 9 shows us, every believer enters into the blessing of Abraham. Verse 8 indicates what it is that is referred to as the blessing of Abraham. It was not merely his own personal blessing, but that in him all nations should be blessed. Not only was he to be accounted righteous before God and to stand in the blessings connected with righteousness, but myriads from all nations were to enjoy similar favour, which was to reach them in him.

But why in Abraham? How could this be? It will be worth while reading the passages in Genesis which refer to this matter. The promise of the blessing was first given when God's call first reached him. This is in Genesis 12: 3. Then in Genesis 18: 18 it is confirmed to him. Again, in Genesis 22: 16-18 the promise is amplified, and we discover that the accomplishment is to be through "the Seed" who is Christ, as verse 16 of our chapter in Galatians tells us. Then further, the promise is confirmed to Isaac and Jacob respectively, in Genesis 26: 4, and Genesis 28: 14; and in both these cases "the Seed" is mentioned. Once introduced, the Seed is never omitted, for in truth everything in the way of fulfilment is dependent upon Him.

The blessing then was only in Abraham inasmuch as, according to the flesh, Christ sprang out of Abraham. The Jews boasted themselves in Abraham as though he were of all-importance in himself. The Galatians had been tempted to ally themselves with Abraham by adopting his covenant of circumcision. But the real virtue lay not in Abraham, but in Christ. And the very circumcision which would outwardly ally them with Abraham, would virtually cut them off from Christ (see Gal. 5: 2) in whom everything was found, not outwardly, but inwardly and vitally.

From the outset God intended to bless the heathen (or, the nations) through faith. It was no after-thought with Him. How gracious was His design! And how comforting it is to us to know it! He called Abraham out from the nations that had fallen into corruption, that He might, m spite of all the defection that marked His people, preserve a godly seed out of whom might spring in due season, the Seed, in whom all the nations should be blessed, and Abraham as well. Hence the nations are to be blessed by faith, as Abraham was, and not by the works of the law.

God is omniscient. He can foresee what He will do, in spite of all eventualities. But here this omniscience is attributed to the Scripture! A remarkable fact surely! God's Word is of Himself, and from Himself, and is therefore to be very closely identified with Him. Let men beware how they handle it. There are those who utterly deny and deride the Scripture; and there are those who honour it in theory, and yet corrupt it. Both will ultimately have to reckon in judgment with the God whose Word it is. And, woe betide them!

The Scripture itself foresees, and it foretells their doom!

From beginning to end this third chapter is filled with contrasts. On the one side we have the law and the works that it demanded, the flesh, upon which the law's demands were made, and the curse which fell when the law's demands were broken. On the other side we find the faith of the Gospel, the Spirit given, and blessing bestowed. We have spoken of contrasts, but after all the contrast is really one, only worked out in a variety of different ways.

The Spirit and the flesh are brought into contrast in verse 3. Now in verse 10 we get the curse of the law in contrast with the blessing of believing Abraham. The curse was pronounced against every one that did not continue doing all things that the law demanded. No one did so continue, and hence all who were placed under the law came under the curse. It was enough to be "of the works of the law"-that is, to have to stand or fall in one's relations Godward by the response one gave to the law's demands -to be under the curse. Man being what he is, the moment any one has to stand before God on that ground he is lost.

The Jews, who had the law, hardly seem to have realized this. On the contrary they looked upon the law as being the means of their justification. Contented with a very superficial obedience to some of its demands, they were "going about to establish their own righteousness," as Paul puts it in Romans 10: 3. In this of course they utterly failed, for in their own Scriptures it had been put on record that, "the just shall live by faith." And faith is not the principle upon which the law is based, but rather that of works. The whole matter briefly summed up stands thus:-By law men come under the curse and die. By faith men are justified and live.

The curse which the law pronounced was a perfectly just sentence. The Jew having been placed under the law, its curse rested upon him, and it had to be righteously borne ere it could be lifted off him. In the death of Christ the curse was borne, and hence the believing Jew is redeemed from beneath it. In the days of Moses, the curse had been specially connected with the one who died as a transgressor by hanging on a tree. Many a one in ancient days, reading Deuteronomy 21: 23, may have wondered why the curse was thus linked with death on a tree, as distinguished from death by any other means, such as stoning, or the sword. Now we know. In due season the Redeemer was to bear the curse for others, thus honouring the law, by hanging on a tree. It is another case of how the Scripture foresees!

The bearing of the curse was in view of the bestowal of the blessing. Verse 14 speaks to us of this, presenting the blessing in a twofold way. First, there is "the blessing of Abraham," which is righteousness. Second, there is the gift of the Spirit, a blessing beyond anything bestowed upon Abraham. The wonder of the work of Christ is this, that righteousness now rests upon Gentiles who believe, as well as upon believers who are Abraham's children according to the flesh. All who believe are in a spiritual sense the children of Abraham, as verse 7 informed us.

In Old Testament days the Spirit was promised, as for instance in Joel 2: 28, 29. We who believe, whether Jews or Gentiles, receive the Spirit today. Thus by faith we anticipate the blessing so fully to be enjoyed in the millennial day.

For the moment however the Apostle does not pursue the subject of the Holy Spirit. When we enter Gal. 4 we learn something as to the meaning of His indwelling, and in Gal. 5, we have an unfolding of his operations. In our chapter is pursued the subject of the law, and the place it had in the ways of God, and this in order to lead up to the unfolding of the proper Christian position-as stated in the early verses of chapter 4,-which is the central theme of the epistle. And first of all certain difficulties are cleared out of the way; misconceptions and objections flowing from a false view of the functions of the law, held by the Judaising teachers and doubtless instilled by them into the minds of the Galatians.

The first of these is taken up in verses 15 to 18. In so many minds the covenant of law had completely overshadowed the covenant of promise made with Abraham. But as we have just seen the covenant of law inevitably brings nothing but its curse. Blessing can only be reached by way of the covenant of promise which culminates in Christ. It cannot arrive partly by law and partly by promise. Verse 18 states this. The inheritance of blessing if by the law is not by promise, and this of course is true vice versa. The fact is, it is by promise. Thanks be unto God!

But was not the law intended as a kind of revision of the original testament, a kind of codicil, so to speak? Not at all, for as verse 15 says, it can be neither disannulled nor added thereto. It is an old trick of dishonest men to procure the rejection of a disliked document by foisting into it an addition so contradictory of its main provisions as to stultify the whole. This is not allowed amongst men, and we must not conceive of God's covenant of promise as being less sacred than human documents. The law, which was not given until 430 years after, has not disannulled it. Nor has it been added to it in order to modify its blessed simplicity. It was never intended to do either of these things.

Verse 16 is worthy of special note, not only because it declares in such an unmistakable way that from the outset the covenant was in view of Christ and His redeeming work, but also because of the remarkable way in which the Apostle argues as to the Old Testament prediction. The Holy Spirit inspired him to hinge the whole point upon the word, "Seed," being in the singular and not in the plural. Thereby He indicated how fully inspired was His earlier utterance. Not merely was the word inspired, but the exact form of the word. The inspiration was not merely verbal, i.e. having to do with words, but even literal, i.e. having to do with letters.

Accepting Paul's argument, stated in the verses we have just considered, a further difficulty might well present itself to any mind. If then the law, given over 400 years after Abraham, had no effect upon the earlier covenant, neither annulling it nor modifying it, does it not seem to have lacked any definite purpose? An objector might declare that such doctrine as this leaves the law shorn of all point and meaning, and feel that he was propounding a regular poser in simply asking, Why then the law?

This is exactly the question with which verse 19 opens. The answer to this is very brief, and it appears to be twofold. In the first place, it was given in order that men's sins might become, in the breaking of it, definite transgressions. This point is more fully stated in Romans 5: 13. In the second place, it served a useful purpose in connection with Israel, filling up the time until the advent of Christ, by proving their need of Him. It was ordained through angels, and through a human mediator, in the person of Moses. But then the very fact of a mediator supposes two parties. God is one; who is the other? Man is the other. And since the whole arrangement was made to hinge upon the doings of man, the other party, it promptly failed.

In definitely convicting men of transgressions the law has done a work of extreme importance. What is right, and what is wrong? What does God require of men? Before the law was given there was some knowledge, and conscience was at work, as is indicated in Romans 2: 14, 15. But when the law came, all vagueness disappeared; for all, who were under it, the plea of ignorance totally disappeared and, when brought into judgment for their transgressions, not a shred of an excuse remained. We Gentiles were never formally placed under it, but as a matter of fact we know about it, and our very knowledge of it will make us amenable to the judgment of God in a way and degree unknown to the savage and unenlightened tribes of the earth. So let us take care.

In verse 21 another question is raised, which springs out of the foregoing. Some might jump to the conclusion that if, as shown, the law was not supplementary to the covenant of promise it must necessarily be in opposition to it. This is not so for one moment. Had the law been intended by God to provide righteousness for man, He would have endowed it with power to give life. The law instructed, demanded, urged, threatened and, when it had been broken, it condemned the transgressor to death. Yet none of these things availed. The one thing needful was to bestow upon man a new life, in which it would be as natural to him to fulfil the law, as now it is natural to him to break it. That the law could not do; instead it has proved us all to be under sin, thus revealing our need of that which has been introduced through Christ.

Thus the law, instead of being in any way in opposition, fits in harmoniously with all the rest of God's great scheme. Until Christ came it has played the part of "the schoolmaster," acting as our guardian and maintaining some measure of control. In verse 24 the words, "to bring us," are in italics, there being no corresponding words in the original. They should not be there. The point is not that the law leads us to Christ, but that it exercised its control as tutor until Christ came. When Christ appeared, a new order of things was instituted, and there was justification for us on the principle of faith, and not by works.

This new order of things is spoken of in verse 23 as the coming of faith. Again in verse 25 we have the words, "after that faith is come." Faith was found of course in all the saints of Old Testament days, as is shown by Hebrews 11, and by the passage from Habakkuk, quoted in verse 11 of our chapter. When Christ came, the faith of Christ stood revealed, and faith was publicly acknowledged as being the way, and the only way, by which man can have to do with God in blessing. In that sense "faith came," and its coming marked the inauguration of an entirely new epoch.

By faith in Christ Jesus we have been introduced into the favoured place of "sons of God." The word in verse 26 is "sons," and not "children." The saints under the law were like children in a state of infancy; under age, and hence under the schoolmaster. The believer of the present age is like a child who has reached his majority, and hence, leaving the state of tutelage behind, he takes his place as a son in his father's house. This great thought, which is the controlling thought of the epistle, is more largely developed in the early verses of chapter 4. Before reaching them however, we have three important facts stated in the three closing verses of chapter 3.

By our baptism we have, as a matter of profession, put on Christ. Had we submitted to circumcision we should have put on Judaism, and thereby committed ourselves to the fulfilling of the law for justification. Had we been baptised to John's baptism we should have put on the robe of professed repentance and committed ourselves to believe on the One that should come after him. As it is we have, if baptised to Christ, put on Christ and committed ourselves to that practical expression of the life of Christ which in the next chapter is spoken of as "the fruit of the Spirit." As sons of God, having now the liberty of the house, we put on Christ as our fitness to be there.

Further, we are "in Christ Jesus," and consequently we are "all one," with all distinctions obliterated, whether national, social, or natural. When we get to the last chapter we shall find that in Christ Jesus there is new creation, which accounts for the removal of all the distinctions belonging to the old creation. This new creation work has reached us as to our souls already, though not yet as to our bodies. Hence we cannot as yet take up these things in an absolute way. For that we must wait until we are clothed upon with our bodies of glory at the coming of the Lord. Still even now we are in Christ Jesus, and hence can learn to view each other apart from and as lifted above these distinctions.

Let us take note that what is taught here is the abolition of these distinctions in Christ Jesus, and not in the assembly. We say this to safeguard the point and preserve from misconceptions. In the assembly, for instance, the distinction between male and female is very definitely maintained, as is shown in 1 Corinthians 14: 34, 35.

We have already had three things which mark the believer of today in contradistinction from believers before Christ came. We are "sons of God;" we have "put on Christ ;" we are "in Christ Jesus." The last verse of our chapter gives us a fourth thing: we are "Christ's," and belonging to Him we are in a spiritual sense Abraham's seed, and consequently heirs, not according to law, but to promise.