Reading for Friday, May 18: Galatians 3
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” These are the words that Paul uses as he begins his personal appeal to the Galatian Christians. Paul’s not playing nice here. You can hear the cosmic tone he uses as he rebukes them — “bewitch” implies pagan magic, sorcery, spiritual warfare. After receiving Jesus through the Spirit, the Galatians have embraced a legalistic, fleshly, works-based Gospel — which, as Paul has already noted, is really no Gospel at all. Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions: Did you receive the Spirit because of your strict obedience to Torah or by faithful hearing? Are you finding perfection in your best efforts to be “spiritual”? Is God supplying the Spirit and working miracles among you because of the “righteousness” you’ve achieved? Or could it be that His work among you is actually proof of HIS righteousness, His power, His life?
To make his point, Paul reaches back to Abraham. Paul’s opponents probably appealed to Abraham as their prooftext for connecting faith with circumcision and observance of the Mosaic Law. But Paul addresses his opponents on their own terms, pointing out that Abraham’s encounter with God occurred 430 years before the Law was even received. Abraham BELIEVED God and this faith was the basis of his righteousness (v6) — a righteousness imparted by God through faith (Romans 1.17). Paul argues from priority: God’s promises precede God’s Law. “The law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void,” (v17).
This quote from the ESV Study Bible is helpful: “Abraham is the father of God’s people not because he is the biological ancestor of the Jews but because he has a family of spiritual children who follow in his footsteps by believing as he did. God promised Abraham that he would bring life from his dead body (see Romans 4). Thus Abraham is a living OT prophecy of the gospel: he was not an Israelite but a pagan, and God justified him by faith.”
Does all of this mean that the Law somehow works in opposition to the promises of God? Absolutely not (v21). Paul argues that the Law is holy and righteous and good (Romans 7.12). But the Law also serves as a placeholder, a guardian (v24) until Jesus comes — the One whose faithfulness to Law brings us life. Remember our discussion from yesterday: it’s HIS faithfulness that brings life. “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith,” (v24).
Paul closes the chapter by giving us a lyrical description of the faith-justified experience: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (v27-28). When we accept the grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus, we step into a new existence, a new mode of being. Christ becomes our identity, the normative lens through which we understand ourselves and others. This is what it means to be Abraham’s offspring. And Paul will continue this discussion into the next chapter, which we’ll discuss next week.
Have a great weekend. And may this word dwell richly in your hearts.