Galatians 3:1-18: Paul Continues Defending Himself Using Some Shocking Statements

Paul Continues Defending Himself Using Some Shocking Statements; He Reminds The Galatians How They Started Their Journey Of Faith; He Uses The Torah And The Experience Of Abraham To Teach Them That Salvation Always Came By Faith, Not Works; The Abrahamic Covenant, Which Precedes The Sinai Covenant, Offers Salvation Through A Promise Of The Coming Of The Messiah, Not Through Law-Keeping

The Holy Spirit had used Paul and members of his team to bring the Gospel, the Good News, the Message about the salvation made possible by the Messiah to Galatia, which would be part of present day Turkey. People responded to the message, and Paul started New Covenant Communities in Galatia. Some time after he left, others showed up and told God’s people, probably mostly Gentile Christians, and some Messianic Jews, that Paul was wrong and hadn’t been giving them the full message. These leaders told the Galatians that yes, they needed faith in the Three-In-One God, but they also needed more. They had to observe all the laws of the Sinai Covenant. They undermined not only Paul’s message that faith alone in Yeshua was sufficient for salvation and for living; they also undermined Paul. Paul discovered that this has been going on and wrote this letter to defend himself, his authority and his message.

In the first two chapters, Paul asserted his authority. He warned them about the serious consequences of false Gospel messages. He informed them about his history. His message was given to him by the risen Son of God Himself. The message remained uncontaminated by Paul being isolated from other key leaders for several years. When he finally met some of the other leaders in Jerusalem, they welcomed him. Then, 14 years later, he went up to Jerusalem again, and the leaders there approved of him and his message and acknowledged their partnership with Paul and Barnabas. After that, Paul showed that he was not inferior to the greatest of the other leaders by confronting Peter over this very same issue of Judaizing. Paul was right and Peter was wrong for distancing himself from the Gentiles who weren’t following all the laws of the Sinai Covenant. Paul was not an inferior leader and his message was the right one, so the Galatians should respect him and his authority and his message, and not the Judaizers.

In chapter 3, starting with verse 1, Paul continues defending himself and his message. You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Messiah Yeshua was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain – if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

Sometimes a strong word, even an insult, can shock someone enough to bring them to their senses. Paul does this. He accuses the Galatians of lacking wisdom – not knowing or not properly applying the truth. You foolish Galatians!

He accuses them of irrational thinking because someone has cast a spell on them. Who has bewitched you? Now, Paul doesn’t really believe that someone has cast a spell on them so that their minds have been captured and they can’t think clearly. Again, he is trying to shock them so that they will start thinking clearly.

They had been taught the truth. They had the proper focus of New Covenant Faith – the death and resurrection of the Messiah: Before your very eyes Messiah Yeshua was clearly portrayed as crucified. How could they lose the right focus after Messiah, crucified and risen, was so clearly presented to them as the proper focus of their Faith?

They were forgetting how God first saved them and worked in their lives: I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? The answer: They were saved, they received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and a new, transformed nature and divine empowerment by faith, by believing the Good News about Messiah, by becoming loyal to the Father and the Son and the Spirit – not by obeying the laws of the Sinai Covenant.

He again tries to shock them so they will come to their senses. He again accuses them of being foolish – for starting the right way, then abandoning that right way and trying to finish the wrong way. Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh – human effort, religion focused on law-keeping, not Messiah-centered, Holy Spirit empowered living?

He tries to shock them yet again by telling them that, if they continue in this false direction, all their efforts will amount to nothing. Have you experienced so much in vain – if it really was in vain? All their experiences, all their efforts will have been in vain, empty, useless. They will accomplish nothing useful, nothing worthwhile, nothing lasting.

To reinforce his point that a faith-response, not law-keeping is the way of salvation and right living, he repeats a previous question. So again I ask, does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? The answer – God saved them and was supernaturally active among them, not by them living like Torah-observant Jews under the Sinai Covenant, but by their faith-response to the good, solid teaching they heard – by believing the Good News and transferring their loyalties to the Father and the Son, who gave them the Spirit.

This kind of faith-response to truth that results in a right relationship with God is not a new teaching that Paul invented. That’s what the Torah has always taught about the only way of salvation. A faith-response to God is how redeemed men and women always came into a right relationship with the Creator. The example that Paul uses to highlight this truth? One of the most important people in history, Abraham, the father of the Chosen People and also the father of other nations. He lived before the Sinai Covenant was given, so he couldn’t have been saved by living according to the laws of the Sinai Covenant. He entered into a right relationship with God by a faith-based response to God and His promise. So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” In the Torah, Moses teaches us that God graciously spoke to Abraham, when he and Sarah were already old, promising him that he would have a son and as many descendants as the stars in the sky. Abraham had a faith-response to God. Abraham believed God. Abraham’s faith-response to God resulted in the Lord considering Abraham to be righteous – to be in a right relationship with Him. This is the way great father Abraham was made right with God, and the only way we can be right with God.

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Under Messiah’s New Covenant, we must approach God the very same way as Abraham did. We must have faith in God and His Word, which in our case means belief in the Three-In-One God and the Good News; loyalty to God the Father, Messiah the Son and the Holy Spirit. If we do, we will be like Abraham – considered by God as righteous. God will welcome us as one of Abraham’s children – not necessarily an Israeli or an Arab or one of the other nations that came from Abraham, but one of Abraham’s spiritual children.

Paul reinforces this point that righteousness comes by faith, not by law-keeping, by quoting another passage in the Torah about Abraham: Scripture foresaw that God would justify (make righteous, consider righteous) the Gentiles by faith, and announced the Gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” Part of the Abrahamic Covenant, which is one of the most important contracts ever made, is the promise to Abraham that all the nations will be blessed through him. The peoples are blessed by having a faith-response to the ultimate descendant of Abraham, the Messiah, Yeshua. Is there anything in this promise of blessing about keeping laws? About the Sinai Covenant? About circumcision or the Sabbath or the Jewish holidays or keeping kosher? No, it’s a promise of salvation through a faith-response to the son of Abraham, Yeshua the Messiah.

Abraham had that kind of faith-response to God and was blessed – greatly blessed, just as the Lord promised. And Abraham was saved. And Abraham was redeemed. And Abraham was justified. And Abraham will be greatly rewarded. And everyone who follows Abraham’s example of a faith-response to God and His Word will experience the very same blessings! So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. How wonderful! How tremendous! Baruch HaShem! Praise the Lord!

But, those who dare try a different approach to God, a works-of-the-law approach to God, a human-effort approach to God will experience the opposite of blessing. For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” I agree with David Stern, in his Jewish New Testament Commentary, that the key to understanding this passage and Paul’s argument depends on understanding when “law” means the Torah and when “law” means legalism. Here is how Paul is arguing: the Torah teaches that to violate the Torah results in a curse. Those who rely on the works of the law, the Legalists and Judaizers, violate the Torah, because the Torah does not teach this legalistic way of approaching God. It teaches a faith-response to God that results in righteousness, salvation and eternal life. So, because the Legalists violate the Torah, they are under a curse.

The legalists are cursed, not blessed. They are not righteous and will not experience eternal life. Clearly no one who relies on the law (not the Torah itself, but on legalism) is justified (consider to be righteous) before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” Paul quotes from the prophet Habakkuk, who understood the true teaching of the Torah, that life is the result of a faith-response to God, not legalism. The righteous will live by faith. God will not consider the Judaizers who rely on legalism, to be righteous, to be in a right relationship with Him and they will not live. They will not experience life – life restored to God, life with God, eternal life.

Legalism is the opposite of faith, and will produce the opposite results that faith produces. The law (legalism) is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Legalism emphasizes doing things, not a faith-response to what God has done. To prove this point, Paul quotes the Torah, from Leviticus 18, which seems to teach legalism, but doesn’t really teach legalism: The person who does these things will live by them. “You see” the legalist would argue, admiring this verse. “The Torah teaches that we must do these things – all the things specified in the Torah.” The person who does these things will live by them. But Paul has already shown us that the true teaching of the Torah is that the righteous will live by faith – not by legalism, not by observing commands. So, who’s right? The legalists or the prophet Habukkuk? Obviously Habakkuk.

What does Moses mean when he writes: The person who does these things will live by them? Moses means that the Torah, when properly understood and practiced, will result in life. But the “doing these things” is based on a faith-based relationship to God. The greatest command is to know God, be in a right relationship with God and love God. You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. That is a command, but it is a command that can only be fulfilled in a faith-based relationship with God. So, the person who had a faith-relationship with God, and continued to honor God by doing what He said in the Sinai Covenant, that person will be saved. He will live.

Paul makes another point. The Torah teaches that the way of redemption – being bought out of the satanic slave market of sin and death – the Torah-way of redemption is not legalism and a keeping-commands emphasis, but redemption is the result of substitution – an innocent dying for another. Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” Violating the Torah, going against the Torah results in a curse. The Legalists have most definitely violated the Torah and will be cursed, not blessed. If they want to be rescued from being cursed – there is a way out for them. The Torah also teaches that everyone who is hung on a pole is cursed. If someone was executed for doing something evil, the community could hang the body on a tree before it was buried. This showed that the man had violated the Torah, had forfeited his life and was cursed, not blessed. But Messiah hung on a pole, not for any evil He committed, but as our Substitute. He hung on a tree and took on Himself all the curses that come from violating the Torah that we deserved. So, if the Legalists want to be redeemed, or if anyone else wants to be rescued from the satanic slave market of sin and death, they need to focus their faith on the Messiah, who died on the cross as our Substitute. That is the only way of being blessed and being redeemed and receiving the amazing gift of the Spirit of God living in us. He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the nations through Messiah Yeshua, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Messiah is the Seed Of The Woman who rescues us from all the terrible consequences of the Catastrophe of Eden and the Fall of Man. He is the ultimate Son of Abraham, greater than Abraham Himself, through whom all the nations of the Earth can be blessed. We are blessed, not by following commands in a legalistic way, but by knowing that Messiah died as our Substitute; that Messiah rose from the dead; that Messiah is alive and our living Redeemer; that Messiah sends His Spirit to live in us; that the Spirit of Messiah connects us to God, and transform us, and teaches us and empower us to live a righteous life like Messiah. Messiah is the focus of saving faith – not legalism, not the works-of-the-law. This is what the Torah itself always taught – if only you have eyes to see. It’s so important to understand this. Do you? If you don’t, make an appointment to talk to me.

Paul makes another point: when it comes to salvation, redemption, justification, eternal life – the covenant God made with Abraham, which is based on a promise, not Torah-observance, and which focuses on the coming of the Messiah, takes precedence over the Sinai Covenant, which came centuries later. Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. If two parties make a covenant and it is properly made, one of the parties can’t later change the terms of the contract or nullify the contract. That’s not legal. God made a covenant with Abraham around 1900 BC. One of the provisions of that contract was the promise that through Abraham and his seed, the nations of the world would be blessed by being rescued from Satan and the demons, sin, the sin nature and death. That promise of salvation can’t be changed or annulled by another covenant, eeven if it is the Sinai Covenant.

Paul argues that the coming of Zera Avraham, the Seed of Abraham, a descendant of Abraham, can only refer to one individual, the Messiah. The Seed of Abraham does not refer to more than one person, or to the nation of Israel. It can only refer to the Messiah. Paul bases his argument, that the promise of blessing/salvation comes through the Messiah on the belief that not only is every word of the Bible divinely inspired, but every letter is divinely inspired. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Messiah. In the promises to Abraham about the blessing to come though Abraham’s seed, the word seed, zera, is singular. There is a plural of zera that has the letter yod in it. But the yod is not used in these promises of blessing – only the singular, zera. Therefor the promise of blessing comes though only one singular person – the Messiah. Paul’s point: only Messiah Yeshua is able to bring the promised blessing of salvation to the nations, Him and no one and nothing else.

Paul expands and clarifies his argument: What I mean is this: The law (the law here means the Sinai Covenant), introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in His grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. Paul makes two points. The first is that the promise of blessing, salvation, and eternal inheritance was part of a covenant between God and Abraham. It was enacted 430 years before the Sinai Covenant. Therefor the Abrahamic Covenant can’t be changed or annulled by the Sinai Covenant. Therefor salvation can’t come through Sinai-Covenant-law-keeping, but only by the coming of the Messiah that is part of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Paul’s second point is that God offered salvation through a promise that was part of the Abrahamic Covenant. Salvation comes through the fulfillment of a promise about the coming of the Messiah (the Gospel), and our faith-response to that promise, and not by law or law-keeping. Promise and law-keeping are not the same thing. And since the way of salvation, which is through the promise, came first, salvation for the nations can’t come through Sinai-Covenant-law-keeping – which came hundreds of years later.

May God help each one of us continue our journey of salvation the same way we started it – by faith, not law-keeping. Amen?

May God help us understand that the Torah always taught that salvation comes by faith, not works. Amen?

May God help us understand that the Abrahamic Covenant, which precedes the Sinai Covenant, offers salvation through a promise of the coming of the Messiah, not through law-keeping. Amen?

May God help us be loyal to Him and the message, so that we can be filled with the Holy Spirit, and empowered to live God-honoring, successful lives. Amen?