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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Galatians 3

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-29

FAITH IS THE ONE PRINCIPLE OF BLESSING

(vs.1-9)

"0 foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?" (v.1). Little wonder, as Paul considers the principles and tremendous issues involved, that he speaks out in words of earnest remonstrance and entreaty. Had it not been portrayed before their very eyes, preached with diligent insistence, that Jesus Christ had been crucified? Would they again exchange the blessedness and joy of the knowledge of the Son of God, who had willingly given Himself for them, for the hard, cold requirements of the Law that could give nothing? Would they lightly turn away from the sight of the bitter agony of Calvary's cross and from the sight of the world's most respected professors of law keeping (Scribes and Pharisees, etc.) pouring contempt, insult and injury upon the Son of God? Would they turn from His cry of tender compassion from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34) or from the heartrending cry of pain and anguish, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46). Nothing can be so dreadful as turning away from Christ. Nowhere else is there a ray of hope. It is choosing darkness rather than light, death rather than life. Of course, it had not come to this with the Galatians (and indeed God would not allow it to go to such an extent with any believer) but Paul is not careless in warning them what estrangement of heart from Christ might lead to, for he was alarmed in regard to what sort of attitude they might eventually hold toward Christ if the Law assumed a place of importance in their eyes.

Moreover, Paul brings in the characteristic blessing of Christianity, a blessing altogether distinctive, unknown under Judaism, the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. How had this come about? Had they received Him by the works of the Law? Had their faithfulness and diligence in obeying the Law caused God to be obliged to send the Holy Spirit to indwell them? Even perfect law-keeping could never induce or deserve that! Then don't expect the poor, weak efforts of a corrupt and sinful nature to draw the Spirit of God from heaven to earth!

Only on the ground of accomplished redemption could it be possible for God to come down to dwell with and in men and women. That God has done this is almost beyond comprehension! It is the work of God, and thus should be held fast and maintained against all opposition at whatever cost. Law had nothing to do with it. God, by His own power and grace, altogether apart from any human agency, had introduced a new dispensation, a new means of dealing with mankind. The dispensation of law was replaced by the dispensation of the grace of God, in other words, a new administration, for under the administration of law, humanity had shown itself totally corrupt and unable to produce fruit for God.

A serious issue is raised here. Paul contrasts "the works of the law" to "the hearing of faith" (v.2). Works and hearing are here opposed to each other. Hearing supposes quietness and attention, therefore ceasing from works. How good to be subdued and to listen to the voice of our God rather than to be busily engaged in seeking to show our ability or importance. Faith is connected with hearing, law with works. Faith attributes everything to God, nothing to the flesh, but he who clings to the Law claims the opposite and ignores the Spirit altogether.

"Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" (v.3). Can we expect a new-born baby to grow if we change his diet from milk to straw? Will one grow spiritually by feeding the flesh? It is astounding, yet solemnly true, that one may by the Spirit of God confess Jesus as Lord, thereby condemning the flesh, and yet afterward practice fleshly boasting in his initial confession by which he had judged the flesh! Such is the treachery of the flesh, that it will boast in a work it had nothing to do with. When the heart begins to stray from the place of nearness to the Lord, its attitude almost invariably becomes legalistic, not doctrinally perhaps, at first, but such doctrine soon follows the attitude as a means of bolstering or justifying the attitude. The Galatians had begun by submitting to and rejoicing in the work of God. They then turned around to attach all importance to their own work!

Again, why had they suffered persecution for Christ? (v.4). It would be plainly foolish to deny the flesh if the flesh had any ability to please God. Their suffering had not been for keeping the Law, but for Christ. Was this in vain?

Moreover, what of those who had "ministered the Spirit?" (v.5 - KJV) -- gifted men who were the vessels by whom the Holy Spirit was manifested among them, and -through whose ministry the Holy Spirit had worked in their hearts. Was it obedience to law that produced such ministry, or was it the hearing of faith? Certainly only faith receives a revelation from God.

Abraham (in whom the Jews boasted as the father of their race, while also boasting in the Law) is taken as an example and proof of God's work which independent of any principle of law (v.6). Before the Law was given Abraham was counted righteous because he believed God. Was the Law given to cancel that righteousness? If they boasted in the Law, they were actually denying their relationship to Abraham, for he was justified by faith. If they didn't have faith, they were not children of Abraham. Abraham believed God; hence those who have faith are children of Abraham.

The Jewish question was clearly decided, which also effectively settled the question for Gentiles, for "the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, in you all the nations shall be blessed" (v.8). The promise of blessing to Gentiles was to Abraham, not to Moses, and it was also an unconditional promise, just as the promise to Jews (through Abraham) was unconditional. Note in this verse there is importance attached to Scripture that is measured only by the importance of God Himself: Scripture foresaw God's justification of the Gentiles on the principle of faith, and declared it as early as Genesis 12:1-20. If the critics deny Genesis as inspired by God, this one verse displays their shame and folly, for their denial is a denial of God.

"So then" -- it is established before the law is taken up -- "those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham" (v.9).

THE LAW'S CURSE IN CONTRAST TO FAITH'S BLESSING

(vs.10-12)

What a contrast then is the blessing of faith in verse 9 to the curse of the Law in verse 10. Israel under the Law was therefore under the curse, and anyone now who puts himself under the Law is also under the curse. Why? Because those under the Law are told, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the Law, to do them." The test of law has proved all guilty, so if there is to be blessing, it must entirely depend on God's promise.

The argument concerning Abraham and the Law is on Old Testament ground, for the blessing is viewed as a promise, not as fulfilled. In Christianity the blessing is already accomplished by the death of Christ. Ephesians enters largely into this, as for example Ephesians 1:3, "has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." "He chose us in Him" (v.4). "He made us accepted in the Beloved" (v.6). "We have redemption through His blood" (v.7). "We have obtained an inheritance" (v.11). These established facts are apprehended by faith in the present day, but they are facts consistent with the promises to Abraham, though revealed in a different manner than might have been expected.

At any rate, the Law pronounced a curse against all who had anything to do with it, for it could justify only those who continued in all things written in the law, without a single infraction. Who would dare claim this perfection of life? None can! But faith procured the blessing! Those of faith are blessed; those of the works of the Law are under the curse.

Paul does not attempt to prove the enormity of man's guilt, though in Romans this is fully exposed. Instead of comparing mankind by the measure of the Law to expose his state subjectively, Galatians rather summarily makes the matter one of the declarations of the Word of God. For any who accepted the Old Testament (as the Galatians did), the evidence is conclusive, "the just shall live by faith" (Hebrews 2:4). If we say we live by the Law, we are virtually denying the law, for the whole Old Testament is designated as the law of God.

"Yet the Law is not of faith, but the man who does them shall live by them" (v.12). If a person's works were thoroughly consistent with the Law, he would live by this means (on earth of course, for this is the question here), and would have himself to thank for his life. No faith would be required, for God would not be directly involved. But God had said, "The just shall live by faith." The latter part of verse 12 does not concern the just at all, but "the man who does."

THE LAW FULFILLED IN CHRIST

(vs.13-14)

The marvelous revelation of the New Testament to those who, having been under the Law, had now trusted Christ, was a complete and unqualified deliverance. "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree)" (v.13). The Law was not belittled: it was fulfilled at the unspeakably awful cost of the curse resting upon the holy, guiltless head of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Law demanded (or imposed) a curse. Christ has borne it in His own body on the tree, exhausting its utmost wrath and terror. Well might we, subdued and enraptured, gaze long and meditatively back upon that scene of unfathomed woe and sorrow. It was the darkest night of earth's dark history, to behold Him bearing that dreadful curse, alone, the light of God withdrawn, so that from the depths of His soul poured forth that cry, "My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46).

Can it be possible that anyone could spend even a short time in reflection upon this great work of Christ and yet maintain a stand of self-righteousness? It is only the deceit and vanity of man to ignore the contemplation of such a scene and occupy his mind with his own doings and capabilities. The lack of meditation upon the cross of Christ is immediately exposed by the lack of a chastened, broken spirit. Verse 13 might well be regarded as the central verse of Galatians. It beautifully clears the way for the perfect and unqualified fulfillment of "the blessing of Abraham" (v.14).

If Christ is to be the means of blessing to Gentiles, He must be in a different relationship than that which law involved, or "the blessing of Abraham" could never "come upon the Gentiles." Hence, the very fact that Christ was born under the law demanded that He must be cursed, suffering the death of the cross, then be raised again in order that Gentiles might be blessed. John 12:20-24 indicates this, when Gentiles wanted to see Jesus, and were told that He must fall into the ground and die before bringing forth much fruit. Gentiles could only "see" Him in that new relationship. On the other hand, the fact that Israel had broken the law under which He came, demanded that He must be cursed if Israel was to be blessed.

The curse of the Law has been borne. Perfect, eternal redemption has been accomplished. The blessing of Abraham -- blessing promised by God and received on the principle of faith -- flows out freely to Jews and to Gentiles alike through Jesus Christ, and faith receiving it, has received also "the promise of the Spirit" (v.14).

The primary application of the promise of the Holy Spirit is millennial. The Old Testament promises are quite clear as to this. In fact, those promises will be seen to refer only to Israel in almost every case, one exception being Joel 2:28-29 : "I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh." But even here, if the context is carefully examined, this will also be seen to refer directly to the Millennium. Yet in Acts 2:16-21 Peter applies the prophecy in Joel to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. There is no inconsistency here, for Peter does not insist that Pentecost was the ultimate in the fulfillment of that prophecy. This Old Testament prophecy is not at all a promise to the Church, since there is no promise to the Church as such in the Old Testament. It was to Jews first, and by implication to Gentiles. The ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy can be only realized in the coming earthly kingdom. But the blessing of the Holy Spirit then, is now foreshadowed in the Holy Spirit's presence in the Church.

We today have much more than a shadow of the Holy Spirit's presence, for the Christian has the Holy Spirit in the fullest possible sense, yet His coming at Pentecost was a distinct shadowing of the future perfect fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29. The attendant circumstances of Joel's prophecy have never as yet been seen, while the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost has accomplished a great deal that was never promised in prophecy. Today, by the Spirit's coming, we are blessed with God's building of the spiritual house, the Church; the baptizing of all believers into one body; the annulling of racial and other distinctions in the Church; the breaking down of the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles; and the giving of access through Christ to God, known and enjoyed as "Father" (Ephesians 2:1-22; Ephesians 3:1-21).

The unchanging, unchangeable principle insisted on in Galatians is that of blessing only on the basis of faith, especially as contrasted to the ground of the Law which resulted only in cursing.

GOD'S UNCHANGEABLE COVENANT (OR CONTRACT)

(vs.15-18)

In verse 15 Paul draws an illustration from man's everyday business affairs. A contract confirmed by signatures (signed, sealed and delivered) is not allowed to be annulled or added to. When one's word is in this way pledged, law binds him to it, allowing no retractions or additions. "Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made" (v.16). If humans allow no changes in their contracts, how much less God!

"He does not say, and to seeds, as of many, but as of one, And to your Seed, who is Christ." There is a fine yet beautiful distinction in connection with these promises that is not readily discerned by the casual reader of Genesis, and which likely escaped the attention of Jewish scholars as they searched the Scriptures. The information in our verse 16 is taken from Genesis 22:17-18. Note first as to Abraham himself, "blessing I will bless you." The next clause is distinct from the first: it does not speak of blessing, but "Multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore." This implies a numerous seed, not simply "as of one." But added to this, "In your Seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed." We today see immediately that this last can refer only to Christ, and it is to this that Paul refers. It does not deny the multiplied seed, but it makes definite that the promise of blessing was not to the numerous seed as such, but to the one Seed Christ, through whom alone blessing could flow.

This unconditional covenant of God (unconditional because it is "in Christ"), first given to Abraham, had been confirmed 430 years before the Law was given. The confirmation was not to Abraham (for the time does not correspond) but to Jacob, as plainly stated in Psalms 105:10. God would have us understand that there is no lack of due deliberation and perfect knowledge of all circumstances, past, present and future, when He pledged His word. The intervening time between the giving of the covenant and its confirmation was certainly sufficient to expose the unworthiness of the recipients of promise. Of course, God's Word is sufficient for faith: it stands eternally. But how compassionate He is that He would confirm the covenant for the assurance of His undeserving people.

The Law in no way repudiates, annuls or modifies the promise long before confirmed. If law was the basis of securing the inheritance, promise is entirely out of the question. But God gave it to Abraham by promise, a principle altogether distinct and apart from law.

WHY WAS THE LAW ADDED?

(vs.19-25)

"What purpose then does the Law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made" (v.19). Law was not added as a condition placed on the former covenant (for that would be legally and morally wrong), but as a step toward the fulfillment of promise, a step which both disposed of every attempted claim of mankind and established the truth that any blessing to come was entirely dependent on God Himself. Thus the coming of the Seed -- the fulfillment of promise -- was the conclusive proof that the Law was merely a parenthesis, having nothing to do with the promise.

Moreover, the Law "was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator" (v.19). As Stephen says in Acts 7:53, the Jews had "received the law by the direction of angels." Paul, in Hebrews 2:2 speaks of "the word spoken through angels" in connection with the Law. God Himself could not possibly be known nor come near to mankind apart from redemption, so He used His creatures, the angels, to administer the Law, signifying that there was a distance between God and sinful mankind. As a mediator, Moses emphasizes this distance, and he was a witness to the agreement of both principals -- God and the people. The people declared "All that the Lord has spoken we will do" (Exodus 19:8), and God promised great blessing on earth if they would obey His Law. Hence, this was a legal, contractual agreement, but conditional on Israel's obedience, with both parties dealing by proxy, but with no coming together of God and the people. Law always keeps a great distance between God and the people: grace gives the greatest intimacy.

"Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one" (v.20). The mediator was the go-between and the witness of the agreement of two parties: this is the covenant of law. "But God is one." Grace gives the people no place whatever in the accomplishment of the blessing. God alone the Blesser, and He will not give any of His glory to another. We are thoroughly humbled, but infinitely blessed because God has His true place. Nothing is dependent on the creature. There are no legal terms of agreement, no business deals in which the capability of man figures, no angels to administer, no mere sinful man as mediator. God has worked, and who shall stay His hand or bind Him with conditions? If a mediator is spoken of now, it is a sinless Man who is God Himself (1 Timothy 2:5), the One who has finished the work of redemption by the sacrifice of Himself.

Is there contradiction then in law and promise? Is law a denial of promise? No! If it were even possible that the Law could give life -- could give the blessing proposed by promise -- then righteousness should have been by the Law, not by gift from God (Romans 5:17). If so, human righteousness would be independent of God's grace.

But it could not be, not simply was not so, but could not be so, for Scripture had before concluded all to be under sin, and Scripture cannot be broken. Psalms 14:1-7; Psalms 53:1-6 and Isaiah 59:1-21 clearly declare this. Law proves all to be sinners and confirms the Scripture, hence bears testimony to the perfect sovereignty, wisdom and foreknowledge of God which was not hindered in operation simply because man had not previously been measured by the Law. God measured him long before the Law did. All then are "confined under sin," virtual prisoners unable to free themselves, so that God's promise appropriated by faith is the only possible means of relief and blessing. But this is given only to those who receive it as such, to all who believe (v.22).

Scripture had confined all under sin. Then the Law, which exercised its authority over Israel, only confined them the more conclusively unto faith, that is, faith was the only avenue of escape from their bondage to sin and to the Law. Law gave no hope of escape, but tended to increase the misery of confinement. Faith is the only door to escape from sin and from the Law, but a door thrown wide open in Christ and His accomplished redemption.

"So that the law has been our tutor up to Christ" (v.24 - JND). The teacher and all he teaches is only a means to an end. He should of course strive with earnest energy to put his pupils on the right track, but he has completely failed in his proper function if those pupils settle down indefinitely in subjection to him and dependence on him. His teaching ought to make them independent of his help. Such is the true function of the law: it directs toward Christ. It is a powerful teacher to those who honestly listen to it. It will teach how urgent is our need for Christ. It will drive one to a deep sense of the ruin that sin has caused and of the consequent need of One who is able to cleanse from sin, the Lord Jesus Christ. It does not bring us to Christ, but was in authority in Israel "up to Christ." Christ was its end in view. Law pointed away from itself to Christ, who, now being revealed, is the Object of the faith that justifies. The Law was the signpost that has fulfilled its purpose.

Now that Christ has come, faith has come, faith being the principle that makes one exclusively dependent on God known in Christ. Why then put legal restraints on one who has learned what it is to walk by individual faith in the living God? The tutor is needed no longer.

NOT NOW PUPILS, BUT SONS AND HEIRS

(vs.26-29)

"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (v.26). The word here in the Greek is "sons," not "children," which gives a beautiful distinctness to the line of thought. The first seven verses of Chapter 4 are a development of this verse. As it will be noticed in chapter 4:2-3, the word child implies immaturity and learning under subjection, as a servant. Son however denotes a distinct position of freedom and dignity, no longer requiring legal restraints and prohibitions, but able to be entrusted with responsibility apart from rules and regulations. Thus, all true believers are sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus, a principle that brings in personal initiative and developed by the work of God in the soul, the outflow, in fact, of simply believing God and His testimony concerning His Son Jesus Christ.

The decisive question for the Galatians is this: has their position been changed by conversion to Christ? Are they still on the old legal ground, or on new? What did their baptism to Christ imply? They had been baptized unto Christ, and in so doing had "put on Christ" (v.27). In fact, baptism is in itself a sign of burial, and baptism unto Christ is baptism "to his death" (Romans 6:3). Hence, baptism is a striking picture of the setting aside of the old legal position by means of the death of Christ. I acknowledge by being baptized that the death of Christ has ended the first creation for me. By this I in figure put off the old garment and "put on Christ." This does not mean receiving Christ into the heart, or it would be a strong verse for the deluded advocates of new birth by water baptism. But it is outwardly putting on Christ as a garment. If I have done this, and then go back to law as a rule of life, I loudly proclaim that I was wrong in ever being baptized unto Christ.

The Galatians did not mean to proclaim this, but were acting in pathetic inconsistency with their baptism. They sought to mix the fabric of the old garment (law) with that of the new (Christ). But only let them read the law itself, and the clear prohibition faces them: "You shall not wear a garment of different sorts, such as wool and linen mixed together" (Deuteronomy 22:11). Let them be honest: they are shut up to either one or the other: there can be no mixture.

The new position is an entire contrast to the old. The old maintained strictest barriers between Jew and Gentile, bond and free, male and female. The new disposes of all such barriers (v.28). This refers to the position of blessing. before God: it does not interfere with natural relationships and God's government in the world. A man is still a man in his responsibility to God, a woman a woman; the bond-servant is still that to his earthly master; and as to God's government in the world, Jews and Gentiles are certainly distinct. This will be plainly seen in such scriptures as 1 Corinthians 7:17; 1 Corinthians 11:3-15; 1 Corinthians 12:13; 1 Corinthians 14:34. Our verse in Galatians (3:28) however deals with God's sovereign work of grace in giving all His own an equal standing in eternal blessing before Him. "You are all one in Christ Jesus." Their position "in Christ Jesus" is dependent neither on national, economic nor social position in the world, but simply and only upon Christ, with all that is of earth completely set aside.

This is a position of blessing representatively held for us by Christ Himself, as seen by the words "in Christ Jesus." A community of people may be laboring, each in different occupations and according to existing relationships, while their common representative is in the King's court upholding their cause as one people. Thus we must distinguish between God's governmental diversities and our positional oneness.

"And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (v.29). The JND version gives the sense more clearly, "If ye are of Christ..." The most vital point is that Christ Himself is the Seed of Abraham, and all believers are represented in Christ: they are "of Christ." Therefore, because He is Abraham's seed, so are they. Faith has brought them into this position and given them an intimate connection with Christ, for it is a faith which, recognizing personal worthlessness, repudiates self entirely and finds all good, all blessing in the blessed Person of the Son of God. The promise was "to Abraham and his Seed," to Christ; and our own marvelous place of blessing is as "joint heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17). How magnificently are the wisdom and grace of God blended in this admirable means of His accomplishing the fruits of promise to those "afar off," Gentiles who had never themselves been given any promise. Far from doing violence to the promise, this precious working of God only enhances the beauty of it.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Galatians 3:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/galatians-3.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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