Tuesday, June 14, 2016

No Good Works: Galatians 3:1-14 NLT

Throughout the first two chapters of Galatians, we have really been studying Paul's own autobiography. Now, in Galatians 3, we are getting to the meat of his letter to this group of people. Let's read.

"Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross." (Galatians 3:1)

Woah, Paul. Harsh much? Foolish? Evil spell? I'll tell you what, Paul didn't ever mince words. He said exactly what he thought, didn't he? And why wouldn't he? Remember what we read from the commentary yesterday. If Paul hadn't stepped boldly forward and done his level best to put an end to all of this "you can do enough good works to make yourself right with God" nonsense, we- as Christians- would be in trouble today. These Galatian Christians needed a quick reminder of what they'd been taught!

"Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it?

I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ." (Galatians 3:2-5)

Again, it's not what you do that saves you. Paul is beating this horse (a proverbial one, not a real one, so no PETA here please) hard. He needs the Galatians to get this one. Again. They'd already received the real message. Jesus died on the cross for them. He took their sins- our sins- upon himself and made us ALL right with God. And then he rose again and walked among us to give us HOPE. They don't need to do anything else to be right with God! Those who are walking among them telling them they need Jesus Plus are wrong. They don't need to add anything to the gift they've already been given.

" In the same way, 'Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.' The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God.

What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would make the Gentiles right in his sight because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, 'All nations will be blessed through you.' So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith." (Galatians 3:6-9)

Paul is pulling out his primest (is that an actual word?) of examples here in talking about Abraham. That quote that he has in verse 6, "Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith." That is from Genesis 15:6. It's a direct, old testament quote and any Jewish people reading or hearing this letter would have known it. They were regularly referred to as the "children of Abraham." This is another argument from Paul in favor of faith in God over good works.

In verse 8, Paul does something very interesting. He refers back to several other places in scripture (Genesis 12:3, 18:18, and 22:18) where God promises Abraham that "all nations will be blessed" through him. He pulls in the Gentiles (the non-Jewish people), the very people he is called to share Jesus with, into the mix and declares their ability to get right with God through their faith and acceptance of Jesus's gift.

"But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, 'Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.' So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, 'It is through faith that a righteous person has life.' This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, 'It is through obeying the law that a person has life.'

" But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.' Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3:10-14)

This section of the scripture in Galatians 3 is well explained in the Bible Gateway Commentary, "The Alternatives: The Curse and the Blessing." In verse 10, Paul is offering up two roads that can be taken. One is a road that leads to blessing while the other leads to curse. Remember that the Galatian Christians lived in the midst of Pagan Temples and Jewish Temples. They didn't belong in either place and were tempted by the Jewish way of life. Many believed that following Jewish laws was really the way to blessing in their lives. But Paul is writing this letter to remind them that it's not the law that will make them right with God, it's their faith in Jesus alone.

So in verse 10, he points out the road that leads to a cursed life and in verse 11, he points out the one that will lead to a blessed life. He references Habakkuk 2:4 here. "The Alternatives" commentary describes each verse as signposts along the roads of life and says it this way: "Since faith is the way to righteousness, law cannot be the way. So, Paul says, clearly no one is justified before God by the law. This signpost tells us that faith and law are not the same way, but two different ways."

It seems important to mention at this point that Paul is not saying that following the law is bad in and of itself. The issue is that so many Galatian Christians thought that they could become God's people by keeping the law. They were being convinced that following the law was the way to being made right before God even though Paul had already told them that it's their faith that will save them.

This section ends with Paul reiterating the way to a blessed life, the way to God: "Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3:14) Isn't that a relief? We don't have to try to earn our place in heaven by being "good enough," which is something we can't do anyway. We are saved by Jesus alone.

* Bible Gateway Commentary "The Alternatives: The Curse and the Blessing" https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Gal/Alternatives-Curse-Blessing

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