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We begin now with the third chapter of Galatians, keeping in mind that the Bible was not divided by chapters and verses until 1215 A.D. Chapter three continues to build upon what Paul has already set forth in the previous chapters.
So far he has told us that we are not justified by the law as the Judaizers were teaching by their "distorted gospel." Even if they were to have a perfect understanding of the law, they would still be incapable of fulfilling all of its demands. But Paul was not focusing upon the differences between the law and the traditions of men. Instead, he was speaking of the idea of law itself. A law is a standard of righteousness, whether established by God or man, which men are responsible to fulfill in order to remain in right standing with the lawgiver.
The Judaizers certainly held to many traditions of the elders established by the temple authorities in Jerusalem. But even if their understanding of the divine law had been perfect, they were all found to be lawbreakers already, so appealing to their obedience to the law could never result in their justification.
As I have already written, the law itself is not the problem. The problem is the Old Covenant, which required men to keep the law in order to be justified. The New Covenant did not put away the law but is the promise of God to write it on our hearts by the power of His Spirit indwelling our flesh. If the law were evil, then God would never write it on our hearts.
The New Covenant functions by faith in Christ. He kept the law perfectly, and by faith we are His body. Thus, God attributes the perfection of Jesus Christ to us on account of the unity of the body.
The Judaizers were still placing their faith in the Mosaic method of salvation--that is, the Old Covenant--instead of looking to Abraham, by whom we receive the example of Faith. The Galatians were caught between Paul's teaching and that of the Judaizers, not knowing which was the Truth. So Paul says in Gal. 3:1-3,
1 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the one thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
They all had faith in the blood of the Passover Lamb, wherein they were justified. But did they receive the Holy Spirit through the law--that is, through their ability to keep the law? In other words, did they have to qualify by certain works to be righteous enough to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Or did they also receive the Spirit through faith?
The argument is quite real. After all, Pentecost was a celebration of the giving of the law at Sinai. No doubt the Judaizers pointed to this fact in teaching that the Spirit was given only to those who qualified legally. What they missed was the fact that Pentecost was something that God did by His sovereign will. It was the day that He spoke the Ten Commandments. The people were too fearful to hear, however, and so they sent Moses up the Mount to hear on their behalf (Ex. 20:18-21). In other words, the people had FEAR, not FAITH. So they did not receive the Spirit at that time under Moses.
The people were supposed to receive the law by hearing His voice and allowing the Holy Spirit to write it in their hearts. Faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17). The original pattern of Pentecost shows us that the law was indeed very much present, because it was the Word of God that was being spoken; but the people had to lay aside their fear and exercise FAITH in order to hear that law. Only then could it be written on their hearts.
Therefore, the Spirit of God did not come by the law, or by man's ability to keep the law, but by the faith that came through their ability to HEAR WITHOUT FEAR.
God knew, of course, that the people were not ready to receive Pentecost yet. God had a much bigger plan in mind from the start. Nonetheless, the people were offered the New Covenant when God spoke the Law to them. If they had been able to hear His voice without running away, they might have received the baptism of the Spirit in the way that was given to the disciples in the upper room. You might say it was God's WILL that the people receive the New Covenant, but it was the PLAN that they would reject it, for it could not be instituted until after Jesus' death and resurrection.
Under the Old Covenant, then, the people received the law externally, written on tables of stone, rather than on the tablet of their heart. The law was thus imposed upon their unwilling flesh as a discipline, much like a parent who "lays down the law" to his children in order to train them in obedience. This was not a bad thing, but an admission that the flesh was not in agreement with the will of God and needed external laws to restrain its evil tendency.
The Old Covenant restrained the flesh from the outside; the New Covenant changes the heart from the inside. Both utilize the law, but in different ways.
When the Judaizers said that we receive the Spirit by our legal qualifications, they advocated the Old Covenant as the foundation of Pentecost. Having begun by faith (Passover), they taught that righteousness was determined by our acts of obedience in accordance with the law, instead of by the act of the Holy Spirit writing the law in our hearts.
This may be seem like a technical point, but the fruit of such thinking had produced the distorted gospel of the Judaizers, who still wanted to find some way to keep the Old Covenant alive. If the true Passover Lamb had indeed destroyed the Old Covenant as a method of justification, then they hoped to find a place for the Old Covenant in the sanctification process of Pentecost.
How could they be so foolish?
The law is present in both Covenants, but the first puts the responsibility upon man to fulfill it by trying hard to act obediently, while the second puts the responsibility upon God to do it in our hearts by means of faith.
5 Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
In other words, did the people do righteous acts, which then qualified them to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Or did they receive the Spirit simply by hearing and believing the word that was preached to them?
6 Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
Here Paul begins to introduce Abraham into the narrative. Abraham, as a prophetic type, lived prior to Moses. Abraham is a type of the New Covenant; Moses is a type of the Old Covenant. The New came before the Old, showing that the New takes precedence over the Old. The Old Covenant was a temporary provision in view of Israel's inability to hear under Moses. The age from Moses to Christ served two main purposes: (1) it gave them time to mature, because the Law was designed to bring us to Christ, as Paul explains in Galatians 4; (2) it proved that the Old Covenant requirement could only end in failure with the captivities of Israel and Judah.
Abraham is the father of Faith, because his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. In this, he foreshadowed the New Covenant, and all who follow his example of faith are called "sons of Abraham." This was the common terminology of the day, for it was understood that "sons" were not merely physical sons but also those who followed the example of another.