Yesterday, we saw how the Law (the Torah) ended by looking forward to the One – the Prophet like Moses – Who would come to bring salvation for His people. Today, we begin the book of Galatians, where the Apostle Paul points back to the Torah to show us that this has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Paul is writing to a group of largely non-Jewish Christians who had begun to believe that certain requirements of the Law – specifically circumcision – needed to be observed in order for them to be truly Christian, and to please God. Paul’s argument against that is that Jesus has fulfilled the Law and that only faith in Him saves, makes someone Christian, and pleases God. In fact, this has been the way it has always been. He will lean heavily on the book of Genesis to show that God’s promise to Abraham could not have been fulfilled in physical Israel (the establishing of whom is recorded in the other four books of the Law). Much like with the book of Hebrews, we will only be able to take a 10,000 foot view of what is contained in the book of Galatians.
Paul begins, as usual, by introducing himself. That he is an Apostle called by God is meant to affirm the authority of what he is about to say (1:1). Right off the bat, Paul asserts that what the Galatians have done by going back to the Law, in essence, is desert Christ (v. 6), establishing a dichotomy between Law and Christ. There is only one Gospel, and it is the one he preached to them (vv. 7-11), because it is the one that was given to him by Christ (v. 12). It is the very Gospel that changed him from enemy of God, to child of God (vv. 13-14). In verse 15, Paul begins to show the eternal sovereignty of God in salvation by saying he was “set apart before [he] was born.” Paul’s direct revelation from Christ was recognized as authoritative by the other Apostles (vv. 16-24).
Chapter 2 continues this same train of thought. Paul’s authority is such that he did not have to have Gentiles circumcised in order to be accepted as true Christians among the Jewish brethren (2:1-3). Even though this was opposed by Judaizers,* for the sake of the Gospel Paul would not submit to their false Gospel (vv. 4-5), and neither would the other Apostles (v. 6). Rather, all were in agreement that Paul would bring the true Gospel to the Gentiles, and Peter and the others to the Jews (vv. 7-9). And like we have seen in the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy, the principle that God’s people should care for the poor in their midst is an important facet of our faith (v. 10).**
Paul then explains that his authority is indeed God ordained, because he has even corrected the other Apostles when it comes to regressing back to observances of the Mosaic Law (vv. 11-14). This is a very important part of Paul’s argument! In Christ, both Jew and Gentile are to live unto God in the same way. And here, we see that the Mosaic Law is no longer how even the Jews are supposed to live. In other words, the Galatians (Gentiles) were doing the same thing Peter (a Jew) did – and Peter was shown to be wrong!
And then we come to the heart of Paul’s argument. If life in Christ is not according to the Law, then what is it according to? The answer is faith. Again, Paul says that even Jews (v. 15) know the Law cannot save, but only faith alone in Christ alone (v. 16). The Apostles – Jews – have placed their faith in Christ for salvation because neither they nor the Galatians – in other words: nobody – can be saved by works of the Law, but only by faith (v. 16).***
And in typical Pauline fashion, Paul here anticipates the next question; the next argument against him. If the law once saved, and now doesn’t – indeed, if the law once saved but now is sin, then Christ’s coming made the Jews, the Judaizers, and the Galatians sinners, which they were not before He came (vv. 17-18). But the fact of the matter is that all the Law could do was make them sinners (v. 19)! And this was meant to drive them to God’s true salvation (v. 19). Because the one who was convicted by the Law has died with Christ, and Christ Who rose from the dead now lives in him, and he now lives unto Christ (v. 20). If the law was sufficient to save, then Christ would not have had to die to accomplish all of this (v. 21).
In chapter 3, Paul now takes what he just said about justification by faith alone, and points the Galatians back in time to show them that this is how it has always been. He starts by going back to the crucifixion. This was done publicly, was verifiable for them, and was convincing enough for them to believe (3:1). Then he goes back only as far as the moment they believed. When they placed their faith in Christ, they were saved. And he asks them: how did this happen? was it faith, or the Law (v. 2). Paul knows that their answer must be faith. And so do they. So, knowing that, do they think that something other than faith is now required by God (v. 4). Does the Spirit that saved them (v. 2) now need their works of the Law added to His works (v. 5).
Then Paul goes further back in time, to our father Abraham. How was he justified? By faith (v. 6). Before the Law. Before there was an Israel. When God first called a particular people as His own, justification was by faith alone. So if Abraham was justified by faith alone, then the promised offspring of Abraham are also justified by faith alone. In fact, if the promised offspring are justified by faith alone, then only those justified by faith alone are the promised offspring (v. 7)! And why did God make this so, all the way back in Genesis 12? Because the promise always included the Gentiles (v. 8), who receive the blessing of Abraham (v. 9).
And verse 13 we see how we know that the command God gave in Deuteronomy 21:23 pointed us forward to Christ.**** Paul here quotes that verse to show how the only One Who ever earned righteousness through the law became a curse for us. He earned righteousness, yet became a curse. Let’s back up. We earned the curse not just because of the Fall, but because we have all failed to follow the law (v. 10 – see Deut 27:26), yet by faith we become righteousness before God. So if the righteous will live by faith (v. 11 – see Hab 2:4), then the law is no longer required because one cannot live by both, and because the curse of disobedience has been placed on Christ. Do we see? It is one or the other! It is law or faith. Because it is our righteousness, or Christ’s righteousness. Our curse, or His atoning curse. Because fulfillment of the Law is required, and we can try to follow the Law, or we can place our faith in Him Who followed it perfectly, yet became a curse for our disobedience.
Paul then asks the Galatians to think about in human terms. Even with humans, a covenant cannot be nullified without consequences (v. 15). I mean, that’s the point of making the covenant! If one side does not uphold it, they must pay! But the covenant with Abraham was made, not with him and all of His offspring, but with him and a specific offspring: Christ (v. 16). And the Law that came way later cannot annul that covenant (v. 17). So obedience to the Law cannot be part of the previous covenant (v. 18). So why did God give the law? Because it was meant to reveal sin (v. 19) until the previous covenant should be fulfilled. And how was it fulfilled? By Christ’s perfect righteousness. But the covenant He makes is not like the Mosaic Covenant that was mediated through angels, then through Moses, to the people. It was from God Himself, Who came in the flesh (v. 20).
So then, is the law, that came after the covenant with Abraham, contrary to it? No! Because the law has nothing to do with the promise, because the law was not given to provide life (v. 21). Rather, the Law (and the Old Testament as a whole) revealed sin. But Christ revealed salvation through faith (v. 22). Before Christ revealed that, we were stuck in our sin (contrary to Christ making us sinners – see back in 2:17). So the Law – though not the same as the promise – preserved the promise (v. 24) until Christ should come to fulfill the law so that we would be under the Abrahamic Covenant, and not the Mosaic (v. 24). And now that He has, the Law is fulfilled, and we are therefore justified by faith alone (v. 25) in Christ alone (v. 26).
And here is what Paul wants the Galatians to realize. If all of this is true, then the Law, given to Israel, is no longer valid, because it is now about faith in Him Who fulfilled that law (v. 27). So now, the idea that one must first become a Jew to be a Christian is out the window! Because in Christ, there is no difference between Jew or Greek (used to represent the Gentile nations – v. 28). In fact, all of the distinctions of the Old Testament are completely out the window where salvation is concerned (v. 28)! Why? Because the original promise made to Abraham and to Christ Who fulfilled it is given to all those who belong to Christ by faith (v. 29).
We see here that there are tensions in the Bible that are resolved only by Christ. Obedience to the Law is required, but it isn’t. The promise for the offspring of Abraham is only about Christ, but it is about those of us with faith in Christ. Christ was perfect, but cursed; we are cursed, but counted as perfect. How? Christ. How are we included? Faith. God is good!
*A Judaizer, most simply put, is someone who insists that in order for someone to become a Christian, they must first become a Jewish proselyte. Christianity is a religion that grew out of Judaism, which was God’s design. Though His promise to Abraham was not fulfilled in the nation of Israel, the promise was preserved through the nation of Israel. But this is only because Jesus, a Jew, fulfilled the Law for Jew and Gentile alike.
**Many an atheist will charge the Christian church with arbitrarily ignoring some Old Testament laws while insisting on others. A careful reading of the Bible, however, will show that this is not correct. Though Christ fulfilled the whole Law – every iota nd every dot – the New Testament is clear that many of the principles of the Mosaic Law reflect the character of God, and are still virtues that His people are to strive for. And each and every one of these is detailed in the New Testament. So while we are not forbidden from getting tattoos, as an example, we are still called to care for the poor.
***Justification by faith alone – sola fide – one of the five “solas” of the Reformation – means that the righteousness required for salvation has only ever been achieved by Christ, so faith in Christ literally gives us that righteousness before God based on Christ’s work. Make no mistake, righteousness according to the law is required, but we can’t do it. Christ, and Christ alone, did it. Without faith in Him, there is no justification (righteousness). This is why this doctrine was the heart of the Protestant Reformation.
****I find it interesting that only four times in the Bible are a tree and a curse tied in together. There is Genesis 3:17 after the fall, where eating of the tree brought the curse upon us all. There is Deuteronomy 21:23, where God gives the command that anyone hung on a tree would be cursed. There is our verse here in Galatians that tells us this was so Christ – perfect in righteousness – would become our curse. The fourth time is when Christ curses the fig tree (see Mark 11:21). The interesting part is that we see in this how our responsibility (the fruits we produce) are inseparable from the gracious salvation God unilaterally provides for us. God’s sovereignty never cancels out our responsibility!