The entire third chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians was devoted to the subject of justification. The word “foolish” refers not to inadequate intelligence but a lack of wisdom. It is living by the world’s rules rather than according to God’s Word. Paul realized that the Galatians didn’t lose faith because of judgment and reason. He knew that they were influenced by false teachers. He emphasized the fact of Christ’s death and resurrection should have had the same influence on the Galatians as if they had seen Him die in person.
Paul knew the Galatians began their walk of faith with the Holy Spirit, but they soon fell under the influence of the world. The simplicity of their early faith was gone. The Galatian believers were spiritually dull, not understanding the impossibility of salvation based on works. Paul had preached so vividly that the Galatians could almost see Jesus crucified for them on the cross. If the Galatians had only kept their eyes fixed on Christ, they would have been immune to the deceitful words of their opponents.
Paul talked not about the content of faith, or the believer’s state of mind, but of the believing kind of hearing that is open to the Gospel, welcomes it and leads the hearer to yield to Christ and entrust his life to Christ. To put it simply, faith comes by hearing. In verses 2-5, Paul asked a series of rhetorical questions designed to cause the Galatian believers to return to the true foundation of their faith: Christ alone. Circumcision is not the mark of God’s people; the reception of the Spirit is the true mark. No other is needed!
The Galatians had already received the Holy Spirit. He is every believer’s most unmistakable proof of salvation and greatest guarantee of eternal glory. The presence of the Holy Spirit comes at the moment of belief, not later, as a result of obedience. Any Christian who believes he or she does not have the Spirit is either untaught or unsaved.
The word “perfect” means mature, not sinless. Spiritual maturity has the same starting point as salvation: faith in Jesus Christ. Faith changes the motivation of our hearts from seeking to be acceptable to God through our own efforts to wanting to live for Him.
One reason why the Galatians lost faith was that they were persecuted for their faith. If they returned to the law, their suffering would have been meaningless. Paul reminded them that they came to faith because of God and not because of obeying the Old Testament law. If someone broke one law, they broke all of the laws. This is the curse of the law-a curse that Christ freed us from. He paid the sin debt. He did something that we can’t do for ourselves.
The law is like a chain that ties a ship to the dock. Just like a broken link causes the entire chain to fail, so one transgression of the law breaks the entire law. Since this is an all-or-nothing proposition, no amount of work can save us-only God can declare us just.
Abraham represented faith. He showed both Jews and Gentiles what was meant by faith. He responded to God’s call. He trusted in God’s promises. He obeyed God’s commands. The fact that Christ died outside of Jerusalem means that there is no one outside the domain of His powerful, suffering love. The Cross shows that God is free to justify the whole human race. His justification doesn’t depend on our readiness or our achievements or on our own merits. It depends on God’s grace alone.
The Jews were proud of being children of Abraham. Paul asked them how Abraham was justified or made right with God. The answer was that Abraham was counted as righteous when he believed God’s promise to give him descendants as numerous as the stars.
There was no stronger argument for a Jewish Christian at that time than that Abraham had been justified in exactly the same way Paul was declaring. Faith is not a work that makes one righteous, but by faith we are united with Christ who is our righteousness. Like Abraham, we are justified, or counted as righteous, by believing God.
When Paul refers to Genesis 12:1-3 in Galatians 3:8-9, he states that Abraham was taught the good news of salvation is for all people, not just the Jews. Therefore, Gentiles were not required to become Jews in order to be saved-that would be salvation by works, which Paul has already said is not the truth of the Gospel.
The phrase “under the curse” is taken from Deuteronomy 27:26. The phrase “works of the law” refers to an argument Paul made in Galatians 2:16. The Jews were in a tough spot. They could not live up to God’s law, yet they would not submit to His grace. Our only hope is to receive God’s grace.
In order to be considered a keeper of the law, one must obey the law perfectly and completely. Only Jesus Christ has ever accomplished such perfect obedience. To be justified or declared righteous before God, we must place our faith in Jesus and His sinless perfection, letting Him bear our rightful curse and be our righteousness. The Christian experience is to be lived by faith from start to finish. We are justified, sanctified and glorified by grace through faith.
The Jews boasted of being sons of Abraham-direct descendants of the father of their faith and thus members of God’s chosen people. But now that Christ has come, all who put their faith in Jesus receive the promise of the Spirit and become spiritual sons and daughters of Abraham. The gift of the Holy Spirit-and His mighty power working in us-depends on faith. The Christian life is a supernatural one that shows the supernatural power of God.
Faith is linked to forgiveness. Forgiveness occurs when we go to Christ and confess our sins. He forgives us. We are justified when God acknowledges the forgiveness that Jesus has extended and accepts Christ’s payment of our sin debt. We plead “not guilty” to God the Father because Jesus the Son has paid our sin debt. We have sinned, but He deals with us as if we are sinless. He treats His Son as the sinner and us as the righteous, and we receive the riches of His grace.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p.1626-1627)
- Barnes, Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
- Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 33: Galatians/Ephesians/Philippians/Colossians/Philemon (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pp. 51-66)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Ed Young, “The Debt Jesus Has Paid for You.” Retrieved from email@example.com