As we’ve ben progressing through the book of Galatians, what have we learned so far? We’ve learned that…
- Paul has a right to speak. He is an apostle with a message given to him directly by God.
- The gospel is about being rescued by Christ alone. We can’t save our selves. Christ plus nothing else is the gospel.
- A false gospel based upon works is no gospel at all.
- Only in Christ, working out the gospel in our lives, can we have unity.
In today’s passage Paul emphasizes that the gospel is more than how we enter the kingdom. We are saved by the gospel but we also grow by the gospel.
Putting it in theological terms: Both our justification and Sanctification are based upon the gospel. Here are three main points:
Living by the gospel leads to growing, living by faith leads to blessing, living by works leads to cursing.
1. Living by the Gospel leads to growing
1 You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?
The important thing to notice is that Jesus wasn’t just portrayed in general. He was publicly portrayed as crucified. The gospel is not just about a general nice-guy-Jesus but about a specific crucified Jesus.
Paul’s language is sharp here. He calls them foolish for getting the significance Christ being crucified. Are you stupid? Do you have a demon? How on earth could you not get this?
2 I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by believing what you heard?
They had believed and they had heard, and they had received the Spirit. In other words when they heard and believed the gospel they stopped trusting in their Jewish behavior and started trusting in the behavior of Jesus, specifically in the crucifixion.
So Paul’s not talking to those who are pretending to be born again but to those who really are. And he wants to know why they would want to leave the gospel behind. When you have been saved by grace why would you now want to make your life all about works? Why would you want make human effort the basis of your future growth?
3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh?
To be “in the flesh” means to fail to remember or believe the gospel. Many Christians think that we are saved by the gospel but then we grow by applying biblical principles to our lives. That’s not how it works. Not only are we saved but the gospel, we continue growing by the gospel!
4 Did you experience so much for nothing—if in fact it was for nothing?
Did you learn nothing when you were saved? Does your recognition of being a sinner in complete need of rescue get thrown out the window as you continue to live?
Further more or…
5 So then, does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law? Or is it by believing what you heard…?
Your growth, your ability to do miracles even, how are they done? Through human effort and works of the law? Or by believing? The miracles, the growth, are accomplished the same way your salvation was accomplished, by faith. As you apply the gospel to your daily life, the Spirit works.
Here are some implications of Paul’s teaching.
First, our failure to grow isn’t from a lack of will-power. It’s not because we don’t try hard enough. Our failures are a result trying to hang on to works-righteousness.
Second, the way to make progress is to repent and remember the way we were saved, by grace. We are sanctified by grace, not by works. We grow as we remember, vividly, the crucifixion of Jesus, what he did and who we are in him.
So, for example, let’s say you have a problem with anger and forgiveness. The solution isn’t to just ask God to take away your anger by His power. Instead, ask God to help you remember what Christ has done for you and who we are in him. Ask Him to make it real for you. Ask Him to help you apply the gospel to your life.
Our anger and unwillingness to forgive is a result of not living in line with the gospel but as we focus on Jesus it becomes increasingly impossible to hold on to anger and unforgiveness. Just like we started trusting in Christ when we were saved, we need to continue looking to Christ to grow.
When we are angry or unwilling to forgive what we have essentially done is make something more important than God’s promises. We have forgotten that in Christ we are fully accepted and loved, that we can’t be more accepted or loved than we already are.
We are angry and unforgiving because we are looking to another person for comfort and approval. We are trying to gain what Christ has already given. In other words, we have forgotten the gospel.
The answer isn’t to try harder not to be angry. It’s repenting of our lack of joy in what Christ has done for us and of who we are in him.
So, living by the gospel leads to growing and…
2. Living by Faith leads to blessing
This is essentially the same point as the first but from the life of Abraham. Abraham is now brought before the Galatians as a witness. The Galatians had been saying it’s good to have faith in Christ but in order to remain in Christ you need to act like a Jew and keep the Jewish laws and customs.
Paul says, well OK then, let me present to you Abraham, the father of the Jews. Isn’t your growth based upon believing what you heard…
6 -just like Abraham who believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness?
Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness. It wasn’t Abraham’s rule keeping, but his faith that was counted. Genesis 15:6 says…
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
The word “credited” is an accounting term. It means “to confer a status on something that was not there before.” It means payment had been received and your account is credited.
It’s important to note the text says credited “as” or “for” righteousness. God is treating Abraham as if he were living a righteous life. Some teach that Abraham is being rewarded for his faith but the text doesn’t say his faith was righteousness but was counted as righteousness. In other words Abraham’s righteousness wasn’t a righteousness that inherently belonged to him.
Abraham was “justified”. He was declared legally righteous with all of the benefits of that declaration even though in his heart and behavior he wasn’t any more righteous than before. One doesn’t have to read very much of Abraham’s life to see that he was still a sinner.
The difference in Abraham’s life was that he lived by faith, faith in who God declared him to be, faith that his account truly had been credited with righteousness.
7 You know, then, that those who have faith, these are Abraham’s sons.
Abraham wasn’t declared righteous on the basis of his works. He wasn’t found pleasing and acceptable because of his own behavior. Abraham didn’t say to God that He must declare him righteous because he was so faithful. No, Abraham was justified despite his behavior and he was trusting in the fact that he was legally righteous even though he knew he was a sinner. Paul makes this clearer in Romans 4:5…
But to the one who does not work, but believes on him who declares the ungodly to be righteous, his faith is credited for righteousness.
When a person is justified it’s not because they have reached a certain level of righteousness and are then rewarded for their efforts. No, they are justified while they are still sinners.
So, it’s not our law keeping that makes us Abraham’s sons but our common faith in God. Living by faith is what blesses us.
8 Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and proclaimed the gospel ahead of time to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed through you.
9 Consequently those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.
Now, what kind of faith are we talking about? What kind of faith results in blessing? There are different kinds, of course. James 2:19 tells us even the demons believe, remember. The text doesn’t say Abraham believed in God, although he certainly did. But Abraham’s faith was more than just an acknowledgement that God existed.
Abraham’s faith was a trusting faith. Abraham trusted in the promise that God would save him, even though he was a sinner. He didn’t just have a general, generic faith, he had a saving faith. Applied to ourselves, in order to receive blessing, we must not just have an understanding of the gospel, we must be trusting in it.
Abraham demonstrated trusting faith when God promised him a son. God had promised to bless Abraham with a son but his wife was barren and there was nothing they could do about it. So Abraham had to completely trust in God to provide a son. Fulfilling the promise depended completely on God and Abraham had to believe that, and Abraham did. Genesis 15:1-6…
1 After these events, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield; your reward will be very great.
2 But Abram said, “Lord God, what can you give me, since I am childless and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 Abram continued, “Look, you have given me no offspring, so a slave born in my house will be my heir.”
4 Now the word of the Lord came to him: “This one will not be your heir; instead, one who comes from your own body will be your heir.”
5 He took him outside and said, “Look at the sky and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “Your offspring will be that numerous.” 6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Following Abraham’s example of living by faith is how we will be blessed. The alternative is to live by works and nothing good comes from that.
3. Living by Works leads to cursing
When you “live by” something you trust in it. What you “live by” is the foundation of your life. It’s what you come to after examining your life and you reach the bottom. It’s what you can’t live without. It’s what gives you the greatest happiness and fulfillment. It’s what gives your life meaning and purpose. What you live by is what gives you worth.
To live by anything other than faith in God puts you under a curse. Verse 10 puts it this way…
10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written, Everyone who does not do everything written in the book of the law is cursed.
You may have your own code of ethics, or your own rules, that you live by. It doesn’t matter. Living by anything other than faith leads to living a cursed life.
There are both a practical and a emotional aspects to this curse. The practical part is that it’s impossible to do everything you know you should do all of the time. And if a person is going to try and earn salvation by keeping the law then they are going to have to keep all of it, and it just can’t be done. So relying on the works of the law brings a curse that can be measured objectively to the degree you fail to keep it.
But there is also an emotional curse because if your basis for being accepted is your own performance then you can never be quite sure if your efforts are good enough. You’ll be cursed with anxiety, and insecurity, constantly comparing yourself with others. When criticized, you’ll be defensive. You’ll be proud and boastful trying to justify yourself to others because your law keeping has become the basis for your self-worth.
Is this really the kind of life you want for yourself? Do you really want to go back to living that way now that you’re saved? Verse 11 and 12…
11 Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith.
12 But the law is not based on faith; instead, the one who does these things will live by them.
There is no middle ground. We either live by faith or we live by works. We either trust in the law and our own righteousness or we trust in the righteousness of Jesus. If you’re going to earn your salvation through the law then you’re going to live by and trust in the law. But that’s a dead end. Trusting in Christ is the only way to not be under the curse.
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.
In the Old Testament people were executed by stoning but then hung on a tree as a sign of being cursed, as a sign of being rejected by God. In a similar way Paul is saying that Christ was hung of a tree and received the curse of rejection from God, in our stead. He did this “for us” as our substitute. He received the curse that we earned so that we could receive the blessing He earned.
Jesus didn’t just take the curse upon Himself, though, he became a curse. He, literally, became sin for us. 2 Corinthians 5:21…
He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
This idea is so important to understand because we become righteous in the same way Jesus became sin. When Jesus took on the curse and he was regarded by God as a sinner. But, in the same way, we are regarded by God as righteous and take on the blessing.
14 The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles by Christ Jesus, so that we could receive the promised Spirit through faith.
The blessing we receive is more than just forgiveness. It’s more than just having our sins wiped away. We have received the Spirit! In God’s eyes we are seen as perfectly righteous and we stay that way. We have been declared righteous and as proof, God himself dwells in us. We aren’t saved by grace only to go on trying to maintain our status by doing good works. To live that way is foolishness.
The gospel is for salvation but it is also for continued growing through the Spirit. Trusting in Jesus Christ crucified is for all of life and the means God uses for our sanctification, the process of us becoming what God declares us to be.