Be Saved by Faith
Sunday School Lesson for June 15, 2003
Background Passage: Galatians 3:1-14
The Reception of the Spirit (3:1-5)
As Paul continued to expose the critical elements of the gospel of salvation by grace though faith in Christ, he turned to confront the theological inconsistency of the Galatian believers in a most pointed way. With the same apostolic boldness he had brought Peter’s flawed behavior to the surface earlier (2:11ff.), he now exposed the seriously twisted reasoning of the members of the Galatian church who had abandoned the gospel and the Savior (1:6).
The chapter begins in very blunt terms—“You foolish Galatians.” Here, Paul flatly accused his brethren of spiritual and intellectual stupidity. They had allowed themselves to become “bewitched,” or fascinated, by those false teachers among them who had preached a new gospel of salvation by Christ plus the works of the law. What made this sudden abandonment of the truth so inexcusable was the fact that Paul had personally and explicitly held up (“publicly portrayed”), through his faithful preaching, the “crucified” and risen Christ as the only way of salvation. In other words, they knew better than to fall into such a theological trap. They were all culpably negligent, and without excuse in light of the clarity with which Paul had taught them.
Paul’s scolding words continued in verse 2 as he raised a series of four direct questions designed to expose their guilt and drive them back to orthodox belief regarding the basic content of the true gospel.
The Example of Abraham (3:6-9)
In order to more firmly press his point into their hearts, Paul introduced the patriarch “Abraham” as the prototypical sinner that God had saved by grace, not through works (cf. Rom. 4:1ff.). Quoting from the Old Testament book of Genesis (15:6), Paul made it clear that Abraham had simply “believed God,” and that his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” In other words, Abraham was made right with God by grace alone, not through the keeping of the Law. Rather, he trusted in the divine promises that were made to him and, consequently, was counted or considered to be “righteousness” in the eyes of God. Circumcision, and other such ritual elements of the Law, played no part in securing Abraham’s standing before the Father whatsoever.
In verse 7 Paul declared that the real “sons of Abraham” are “those who are of faith.” This is a most profound statement in that it establishes the fact that God has always had only one plan of salvation through the ages. He saves those who, like Abraham of old, “are trusting God to do what they have abandoned trying to do for themselves, namely, to commend themselves to God as worthy by their own efforts” [Cole, 136]. You can imagine how such a statement as this would literally rip the foundation from the false gospel of the Judaizers who doubtless claimed that they were the true children of Abraham. Note also it is very likely that Paul used the phrase “those who are of faith” in direct contrast with “the party of the circumcision” (2:12).
Paul’s argument is intensified here as he once again appealed to “the Scripture”—the Old Testament—which announced the truth that “God would justify the Gentiles by faith.” Amazingly, Paul claimed that Abraham had actually heard the “gospel” as he received and believed the ancient promises made to Him by Yahweh (Gen. 12:3). This establishes the fact that Abraham was saved in exactly the same way as we are—by grace through faith. While Abraham looked forward through the eyes of faith to the work of Christ on his behalf, we have looked backward to the work and ministry of the same Savior and Lord. As Abraham was justified before God—accounted as righteous in his sight—so too is anyone who believes in Jesus Christ for salvation. In this way, “those who are of faith” share in the very same blessings given long ago to Abraham, “the believer” (v. 9).
The Redemption Found in Christ (3:10-14)
In verse 10 both the purpose and the terror of the Law come more clearly into focus. Paul proclaimed that those who had, in essence, rejected Christ and were attempting to secure salvation through the Law had actually placed themselves under the divine “curse.” The Law could not save; it could only expose man’s wickedness and guilt before God. This fact is clearly revealed by implication in the Law itself. Paul quoted from Deuteronomy 27:26 to establish the utter impossibility of attaining salvation through conformity to the Mosaic legislation. Without perfect obedience—conformity to “all things written in the book of the Law”—there would be only damnation. The Judaizers, then, had gotten much more than they bargained for with their insistence on circumcision!
Appealing to the Old Testament once again (v. 11), Paul sought to further confirm the truth that “no one is justified by the Law before God” (cf. Rom. 1:17). As later studies will reveal, one of the fundamental purposes of the Law was to demonstrate men as guilty sinners before a holy God, driving them to their knees under the weight of their sin. The Law would serve as the bad news of the gospel, which would prepare the way for the proclamation of salvation by the infinite mercy and grace of God through faith. According to Habakkuk 2:4, those whom God approves—“the righteous”—are those who “live by faith.” Such persons, knowing their personal guilt and responsibility before the Lord, do not attempt to impress Him with works. To the contrary, like Abraham, the truly righteous are those who trust in God’s Word and believe in His promises of salvation. They do not merit their status before Him, but simply receive His merciful pardon as a gift. Salvation, according to Paul’s line of argumentation, was not about doing, but about believing. Since the Law is concerned with works or practice, it “is not of faith” and, therefore, was not to be viewed as a way of salvation (v. 12). The Judaizers’ tenacious insistence on adding works to faith only trivialized the Law and removed grace from the center of the gospel.
Contrary to the false claims of his opponents, Paul insisted that it was Christ alone who, by means of His sinless life and atoning death, “redeemed us from the curse of the Law.” Salvation was provided for us not earned by us. The Law, with all of its power to reveal sin and expose guilt, was satisfied and fulfilled by the life and death of Jesus Christ. Even more glorious is the fact that the “curse” pronounced upon all law-breakers was endured by our Lord on the cross where He hung in our place. According to Paul’s way of thinking, Jesus had “become a curse for us.” That is, He bore our sin and guilt on the cross and was treated as if He were a law-breaker and not the innocent Son of God. In Christ alone, then, “the promise of the Spirit” is received “through faith.” What’s more amazing is the fact that, by faith in Christ, even “the Gentiles” can share in the ancient promises once given to Abraham. Fundamentally, there is only one covenant nation of God composed of both Jews and Gentiles whom God has saved by grace through faith and not on account of works.
One: The Old Testament gospel—Give careful thought as to how this passage makes it evident that the one plan of salvation has been revealed in both Testaments. To view the Old Testament as a book only about law, then, is not accurate. How should this fact change one’s attitude toward the Old Testament?
Two: The contemporary version of the Galatian heresy—Note this interesting observation by Alan Cole : “The average Jew believed whole-heartedly that no circumcised son of Abraham would go to Gehenna. We cannot afford to smile at them when we remember how superstitiously some today can look on ‘membership’ of a church, or even the mere physical reception of water-baptism, or some other rite.” Do you agree or disagree? In what specific forms is the Galatian heresy still very much alive today?
Three: The relationship between faith and works—The Judaizers claimed that works resulted in salvation. However, we have seen that this is directly opposed to the true gospel. Yet, how are works and faith related? Are we claiming that works have no part in the Christian message at all?