Galatians 3:1-6 ESV
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith — just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’?”
Context, Context, Context
When interpreting Scripture, context is everything. So, what is the context here? The Jews had been under the Old Covenant Relationship with God for many years. Now Jesus, their Messiah, had come, had died on a cross for our sins, had been resurrected from the dead, had ascended back to heaven, and had sent his Holy Spirit to indwell his followers.
Now followers of the One True God are followers of Jesus Christ, God the Son, and now we are under a New Covenant Relationship with God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are no longer under all those old ceremonial and purification laws. But we are under the law of love:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40 ESV
So, how do we know that we are still under those two laws? This is taught to the church all throughout the New Testament, even here in the book of Galatians where it teaches that if we make sin our practice that we will not inherit eternal life with God, and that what we sow on this earth, we will reap – if to the Spirit, we reap eternal life, but if to the flesh – we reap destruction, decay, death (Gal 5:16-21; Gal 6:7-8).
But it isn’t the law which saves us. We aren’t saved by keeping the law, for not one of us could keep it perfectly. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, but that faith is not some status we hold to. Faith in Jesus Christ is surrender to Jesus as Lord (owner-master) of our lives, and it results in us leaving our lives of sin behind us and us walking in obedience to our Lord (Lu 9:23-26; Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-17; 1 Jn 1:5-9; Tit 2:11-14).
So, when we believe in Jesus, we don’t become lawless. Faith in Jesus Christ is not free license to live however we want and to continue living in sin. We are not free to sin. We are free to NOT sin because Jesus died on that cross to free us from our bondage to sin and to empower us to live righteously.
So, What is the Issue Here?
The issue here is not that the people were living holy lives, pleasing to God, and that they were being scolded about that and that they were being told that they should return to their lives of living for sin and self out of fear that living holy lives would be considered “works-based salvation.”
The issue here is that they were adding externals to their faith, that they were adding outward and physical things to the gospel message. The Judaizers were trying to convince the Christians that they still had to adhere to the ceremonial and purification laws the Jews once had to follow.
So, the works of the law being referred to here are not God’s moral laws which continued into the New Covenant. They are the ceremonial and purification laws having to do with circumcision, foods they could not eat, and special days they were to celebrate, etc.
And, the faith being referred to here is not absent of works, but they are the works of God, of the Spirit of God, which God had planned in advance that we should walk in them, as God works in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13; Eph 2:10; Rom 2:6-8; Tit 2:14; Jas 2:17).
And, Abraham is given to us here as our example of faith. And, what do the Scriptures say about Abraham’s faith? Yes, it was counted to him as righteousness, but what else? It says, “By faith Abraham obeyed” God. And, it says that “Faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works” (Heb 11:8-19; Jas 2:21-24).
So, please know when you are reading these Scriptures about the law and works of the law in contrast to faith, that we are not being encouraged here to abandon holiness, righteousness, purity, and faithfulness. We are not being given permission to sin. For, the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us who WALK, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-17; Eph 4:17-24; 1 Jn 1:5-9; Tit 2:11-14).
Oh, to Be Like Thee, Blessed Redeemer
Lyrics by Thomas O. Chisholm, 1897
Music by W. J. Kirkpatrick, 1897
Oh, to be like Thee! blessèd Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.
Oh, to be like Thee! full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wandering sinner to find.
O to be like Thee! lowly in spirit,
Holy and harmless, patient and brave;
Meekly enduring cruel reproaches,
Willing to suffer others to save.
O to be like Thee! while I am pleading,
Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love;
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling,
Fit me for life and Heaven above.
Oh, to be like Thee! Oh, to be like Thee,
Blessèd Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.
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