Galatians 3 - A Really Important Chapter

I have written several posts concerning the Old Testament Law and how Christians should view the Law on  You can read my previous posts here: How then shall we think about the Law? and A few more thoughts on the Law.

At Risen Life Church and Gateway Community Church we have been in a fairly detailed preaching series on the book of Galatians.  Most of my thinking about the Law originated with Paul’s arguments in chapter three of Galatians.  When we put together our preaching series I particularly wanted to preach this chapter and our Elders granted my request.  Below I have provided a few of the points from my sermons and have also included links to both sermons.  Sermon number one covers Galatians 3:1-14, preached at Risen Life Church, and sermon two covers Galatians 3:15-29, preached at Gateway Community Church.  I honestly think this is one of the most important chapters in the Bible for helping us understand how the Gospel fits together with the Law, how Old Testament believers were saved, and how we ought to see the continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Paul’s main point in Galatians is stated in Galatians 2:16.  We are justified by faith alone in Christ alone. Paul has been concerned for the Galatians because after they had received the Gospel in faith they were being tricked by some Judaizers.  The Judaizers wanted to say salvation depends on adherence to the Law, and particularly circumcision.  Paul counters the arguments of the Judaizers in chapter three by helping the Galatians to remember how they were saved by faith and by arguing from the Old Testament – showing how Abraham was similarly saved by faith.  Paul then continues to argue for the priority of the promise to Abraham over the addition of the Law, and then shows how the Law fits into God’s original promise.  I think we can take away the following from Paul’s arguments:

1) God’s people have always been saved by faith.  In Galatians 3 Paul is unapologetic that Abraham was saved by faith.  We can see this in Galatians 3:6-9.  Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.  What did Abraham believe?  That through his offspring God would bless all the world.  And so Abraham believed God’s promise and he was saved.  This promised passed down through his sons and they all similarly believed God.  Then the people grew into a great nation and God gave them His law and the people that were saved under the law believe God’s promise that he would take care of their sins by performance of the law.  Take a look at the first ten chapters of Leviticus and look at how many times it speaks of those that perform the acts prescribed in the law ‘will have their sins atoned for’ and ‘will be forgiven.’  We know from other passages in the Bible that the Law is unable to save in and of itself, but rather it was faith in God to take care of their sins and their response to God’s promise through the performance of the Law.  Abraham was saved by faith, those under the law were saved by faith, and when Christ was revealed in the fullness of time as the object of our faith we look at His death and resurrection and receive salvation by faith.  Romans 3:24-26 helps us see how this is possible.  God looked over the former sins (because He is gracious and loving) and at the right time placed them on Christ.  Therefore the saints of old were saved by faith just as we are saved by faith and all of this achieved in the death and resurrection of Christ.

2) The death and resurrection of Christ was always plan A.  In Galatians 3:21 Paul asks the question, “Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not!” The idea here being it wasn’t as if the Law was God’s first attempt at reconciling the world to Himself and it failed because no one could do it.  No.  The Law was always a part of God’s plan to save people through the death and resurrection of Christ.  Paul talks about the Law being our guardian until Christ came (Galatians 3:24), that it revealed sin, and that it showed us our need for salvation.  Not only did it do these things, but it prefigured the Gospel in amazing imagery and revealed God’s character and desires for His people.  In my sermon I liken the Law coming to the people of God to the first couple years of marriage.  In a marriage relationship as you grow together you establish ground rules for how you will operate, learn about each others character, and express what make you happy and sad.  But everything you learn in marriage does not trump or impose upon your original vows of marriage.  God did something similar in the Law, yet it was always plugged into the promise to Abraham of a coming son that would be the savior of the world. The Law deepened the covenant relationship God had with His people.

3) The Gospel as the Great Exchange.  Paul argues in Galatians 3:10-14 that Jesus became cursed for us so that we might be counted righteous.  The Great Exchange goes like this: God shows us in his Law that He demands perfect obedience, and we all know that we can’t follow the Law perfectly.  In fact, it makes us want to sin more.  Jesus then came and followed the Law perfectly.  Having achieved perfect righteousness under the Law, He took all of our sin as if he was completely guilty and died for us.  In this way He accomplishes our salvation.  Jesus then offers us His righteousness in exchange for our sin.  He paid the price for sin that we were meant to pay, we get the righteousness that He achieved.  In the Gospel our sin is exchanged for His righteousness and from then on God sees Christ’s righteousness in us and we are counted as justified before God.  That is the Great Exchange, that is the Gospel.

4) The continuity of our Bibles, OT and NT.  If all of God’s people have always been saved by faith, and if the Law fits into the Gospel, and if we are called Abraham’s children if we believe in Christ through faith, then there is great continuity between the OT and the NT.  The God of both testaments is the same God.  Salvation is the same.  People of faith are all the same.  This should spur great expectancy in our reading of the Bible and particularly of the OT.  This is part of the reason I am doing a PhD in OT.  I think it has been neglected for far too long. 

5) How the Law can be studied as a believer.  If we approach the Law with faith then there is a lot to be learned about God, Christ, and how God desires his people to live.  In fact when you read the Law you should ask these three questions: What does this reveal about God? How did Jesus fulfill this?  And what does this say about how I should live as a child of Abraham, a believer in Jesus?  Psalm 1 proclaims the value of meditating on the Law of God.  In Psalm 1 the righteous man is known by God, he is growing like a tree planted on streams of water, he bears fruit at the proper time, and God blesses all that he does.  Let us meditate on God’s Law in faith as Christians.

6) The purpose of the Law.  I mentioned this above, but I will mention it again. Paul tells us in Galatians that the Law was added because of sin.  It points out our sin, holds us captive in sin, and points out that we need salvation if we want to be in a relationship with a Holy God.  Once we have grabbed hold of salvation through faith in Christ the Law then becomes a window into the very character of God to be studied and loved as mentioned in number five.

7) The availability of the Gospel to all.  Finally, Paul argues in Galatians 3:27-29 that the Gospel is for everyone, everywhere.  These verses are not saying that we loose our personal or gender distinctions, nor are they saying we cease to have God given roles.  In addition these verses are not intended to support women in the pastorate.  They are simply saying the Gospel does not discriminate.  There is no racial background or life setting that would preclude you from coming to faith in the Gospel.  The Gospel is offered freely to everyone and is appropriated through faith.  Positively, these verses do draw one distinction between salvation before Christ and after Christ.  The difference is we now get the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  This is what Moses prayed to God for the people of Israel to receive and what the prophets saw God doing in the future.  Now God indwells his people and gives them the power to overcome sin and walk in His ways (check out Ezekiel 36).

There is a lot more that could be said, but I guess I need to leave something for you to hear in these two sermons.  I hope you enjoy the sermons on Galatians 3 and that they help shape your view on the Law (and the OT by extension) as well as help you understand how the Law fits with the Gospel of Christ.  As always I love to hear your feedback.

Click Here to listen to:

  2) Sermon on Galatians 3:15-29

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