Galatians 3 Commentary


Experience of the Galatians (3:1-5)

When the Galatians first heard the gospel from Paul, they understood clearly that salvation was based solely on Christ’s death, and they gladly received it by faith. Now, because they have fallen under the power of the Judaisers, they have turned from this gospel and are trying to live according to the law (3:1- 2). If the almighty power of God’s Spirit was necessary to save them from the penalty of sin, how do they expect to triumph over sin in their lives by their own efforts to keep the law (3)? Surely they must know that the miracles they experienced among them came as a result of faith, not because of law-keeping. If they forsake Christ for the law, all those experiences have done them no good at all (4-5; cf. Acts 14:3).

Example of Abraham (3:6-14)

Abraham’s life demonstrates that God justifies on the basis of faith, not law-keeping. (To understand the illustrations that follow, read Genesis 12:1-3; 13:14-18; 15:1-6; 22:15-18.) Abraham was justified not because he kept the law, but because he believed God. The law, with its rules about circumcision, had not yet been given. The real children of Abraham are not those who have been circumcised according to the


law, but those who have been saved by faith (6-7). The Old Testament long ago declared that Gentiles would be saved the same way as Abraham – by faith (8-9).

Those who try to win God’s favour by keeping the law are condemned to death by that law when they break it. Since all break it, all are condemned (10). Another reason why people cannot be justified through the law is that justification is by faith; but the law requires obedience, not faith (11-12). Christ’s death on the cross was the clear sign to all that he bore the curse of God. He suffered the death penalty on behalf of the law-breakers, so that all who believe in him might escape the law’s curse. Like Abraham, they are justified by faith (13-14).

God’s law and God’s promise (3:15-22)

Paul then adds an illustration to show that God’s basis for justification (which, from the beginning, was faith) was not changed by the law. When people sign an important document, no one can alter its contents; when God makes a covenant, he does not change it (15). God made a promise that through the offspring (singular) of Abraham all peoples would be blessed. This was fulfilled in Christ, who gives salvation to all who have faith in him (16). The law, which came hundreds of years after Abraham, could not alter this promise or add conditions to it. People are justified by faith as Abraham was, according to God’s promise (17-18).

If the law did not bring salvation, why was it given? Certainly, it was intended to be beneficial to those who received it (Lev 18:5; Deut 10:13), but it also showed people how far they fell short of God’s standards. In so doing, it encouraged them to acknowledge their sin and seek God’s forgiveness. Like a light switched on in a dark and dirty room, the law showed up the filth but could not remove it. It was a temporary provision that impressed upon people their inability to keep God’s commands, and so prepared them to welcome the Saviour. It was given specifically to Israel, the nation God chose to be his covenant people, and, as in all covenant arrangements, it required the people to keep their part of the contract. In establishing the covenant, Moses acted as mediator between God and Israel, and angels were God’s messengers who delivered the law to Moses (19).

By contrast, when God made his unconditional promise to Abraham, he was the sole contracting party. There was therefore no need for a mediator. God was issuing a promise, not laying down laws. He was showing that salvation depends solely on his grace; it is not a reward for law-keeping (20).

The law God gave to Moses neither replaced nor conflicted with the promise he gave to Abraham.

The purpose of the law and the purpose of the promise were different. God never intended the law to be a means of salvation. It showed people God’s standards, but showed them also how helpless they were to meet those standards. It impressed upon them that they could receive life and righteousness only by the promised gift of God, and they had to receive that gift by faith (21-22).

The law’s purpose illustrated (3:23-4:7)

Jews under the law were like children under the control of a guardian, but this was only in anticipation of the coming of Christ. When he came, those who trusted in him were forgiven the sins they had committed against the law and were put right with God. Instead of being like children under a guardian, they now enjoyed the freedom of full-grown mature sons of God (23-26). Since the coming of Christ, all believers are united in him and are God’s children, regardless of race, social status, sex or the law. Being part of Christ, they are part of Abraham’s promised offspring. Those justified by faith are Abraham’s true descendants (27-29).

Paul gives another example, similar to the first, to illustrate the law’s function. A child who inherits his father’s property cannot do as he likes with it until he has reached the age of an adult. Though legally the owner, in reality he is little different from a slave, being under the control of guardians who manage his affairs for him (4:1-2). This illustrates the position of those previously under the law. They were like children receiving instruction. But Christ came and fulfilled the law’s requirements, so that those under its control could be released to enjoy their inheritance as adult sons of God (3-7).

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