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Galatians 3:1-9: Legalism, License or Liberty-part 2

Good intentions, sincerity, doing the best you can, and good works are not enough to get us into heaven. Only through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ can you become a child of God. Then when we become children of God, He expects us to do good works. We are saved by faith without works, but by a faith that works. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Many Christians begin their spiritual journey by faith in Christ but some are bewitched by legalism, living in the power of the flesh rather than the power of the Holy Spirit. They begin well and are very excited about Christianity, but then they fall into legalism, self-effort and a critical spirit, making the Christian life a burden rather than a blessing. What is their problem? They have never really understood that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ. They have had wrong teaching from the beginning about salvation; consequently, they fail to trust Christ in daily living as they trusted Christ for initial salvation. Salvation comes from an act of God in our hearts. Legalism is an act of human effort based on human traditions.

The Pharisees had developed a system of 613 laws, 365 negative commands and 248 positive laws that they enforced as the law of God, when in essence they were only man-made rules and traditions of men. These rules eventually became law and the Pharisees became more concerned with obeying traditions and man-made rules than they were in the Law of God.

Jesus deals with this: “Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him, ‘Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.’ Jesus replied, ‘And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God?’ (Matthew 15:1-3 NLT). He continues His rebuke, ‘Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him, ‘Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.’ Jesus replied, ‘And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God?’” (Matthew 15:7-9 NLT).

Legalism is based on human traditions, Salvation is based on the word of God. The problem is that the traditions and standards of men change, but God’s word never changes. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35 KJV). “…having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Peter 1:23).

Why on earth would anyone choose to live by the traditions of men when they have the inspired, infallible, perfect word of the Living God? When you throw off the shackles of religious legalism, there is great joy in knowing you are free to allow God to work in you, because you are now focusing on God, not on the rules and traditions.

Verses 4: “Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?”

Here Paul is reminding them of what they had already endured as Christians. To turn back from grace and follow legalism would make their suffering for the truth worthless. We do not know what these sufferings were, the only record of any persecutions is in Acts 14, “But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren” (verse 2); “And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them” (verse 5).

“You had to struggle and endure much contention within your own spirit to get upon the ground of faith at all. Are you going to throw all that away? Is all the experience of your past life to go for nothing, and are you now going to begin on a lower and baser platform?” –Spurgeon

Verses 5a: “Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you…”

Paul continues his thought from verses 2 and 3, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?”

The only real evidence of salvation is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers! And the Holy Spirit comes only by trusting Christ as Savior and Lord! If you were indwelt by God’s Spirit when you believed, apart from the Law, how do you think you are going to improve on that salvation by the works of the Law>

“Supplies” is in the present tense which indicates continuous action, we have a continued and abundant supply of the Holy spirit. “…the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).

Verse 5b: “…and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

Paul reminds them of the miracles God has worked among them because of their faith in Christ, lives were changed, people were healed, demons were cast out, some were even restored to life, all by the grace of God, completely without legalism.

Warren Wiersbe tells about a new believer who had been a terrible drinker, who was confronted by a skeptic’s question, “Do you really believe the miracles in the Bible?” “Of course I do” the believer replied! The skeptic laughed. “Do you mean that you really believe that Jesus turned water into wine?” “I sure do! In my home, He turned wine into food and clothing.”

Verse 5c: “…does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

This is the very conflict Paul is trying to resolve. Does salvation come by the law or through faith? Legalism is an outward performance, salvation is an inward change by the “hearing of faith.”

Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

The Law brings the curse on those hearing it and under it, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’” (Galatians 3:10): No one can keep the law. It was not given to be kept, it was given to reveal the utter sinfulness of humanity so that they will come to Christ. If we could keep the law Jesus would not have had to die for our sins. Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17,18). In fact, “…the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).

God’s plan of salvation is so simple! If it were not simple most of us would have missed it! His simple is it? Just believe!

Acts 16:30,31, The Philippian jailer asks Paul and Silas, “’Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Acts 16:30,31, (AMP), “Men, what is it necessary for me to do that I may be saved? And they answered, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ [give yourself up to Him, take yourself out of your own keeping and entrust yourself into His keeping] and you will be saved, [and this applies both to] you and your household as well.’”

Verse 6: “…just as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

God promised Abraham, “I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants…I will make you the father of a multitude of nations… Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them…This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you. And I will give the entire land of Canaan… Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac,[d] and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant.” (Genesis 14:2,4,7,8,19).

That must have seemed like an impossible dream to Abraham, but he trusted that “with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37) “And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6).

Verse 7: “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.”

The converts in Galatia were struggling to understand their new relationship to go God apart from the Law. This can be a real problem for those who have been raised in a different religion.

There was a Chinese young person in our church who had accepted Christ, but was unwilling to be baptized. Several pastors and church workers had counseled him, trying to convince his from the Scripture of his need to follow the Lord in believer’s baptism. (Baptism does not save, but it is “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (1 Peter 3:21). When I spoke with him about baptism he told me that when he identified with Christ in baptism he would have to deny his religious upbringing as a Buddhist. By the way, he did submit to baptism eventually.

In the same way, these Galatian believers were having a problem identifying with Christ. “They were adrift in a no man's land between the pagan temples and the Jewish synagogues. They belonged to neither. They had abandoned the gods and religious practices of the temples. But they did not attend the Jewish synagogues, nor were they welcome there, even though they read the Jewish Scriptures and believed in a Jewish Messiah. As new Christians without a clear sense of identity, they were easily persuaded that if they acquired a Jewish identity they would belong to the people of God.”–

“Now, is this blessing only for the Jews, or is it also for uncircumcised Gentiles? Well, we have been saying that Abraham was counted as righteous by God because of his faith. But how did this happen? Was he counted as righteous only after he was circumcised, or was it before he was circumcised? Clearly, God accepted Abraham before he was circumcised! Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous—even before he was circumcised.” (Romans 4:9-11 NLT).

“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God” Romans 2:28,29).

The Jews thought they were children of Abraham but Jesus gave them a rude awakening in John 8:38-47, where he tells them they are of their father, the devil “I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father. They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus *said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham.” He is not telling them that deeds save, but is saying that if they obeyed God as Abraham did, their obedience would show they had believed like Abraham. The point is, the one thing Abraham did was to believe God! “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” Genesis 15:6).

Verse 8: “And 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.’”

“The good news announced to Abraham was that some day the Savior would arise out of his nation Israel, and that the Gentiles would be saved through Him as Abraham was saved. Thus, Abraham rejoiced to see the coming of that day (John 8:56). Abraham was therefore to become the pattern to all who would follow, of how a sinner, Jew or Gentile, must appropriate salvation.” –Wuest

“The true gospel is no new thing; it is as old as the hills. It was heard in Eden before man was driven from the garden, and it has since been repeated in sundry ways and in diverse places, even to this day. Oh, that its very antiquity would lead men to venerate it, and then to listen to its voice! It is ‘gospel,’ or good news—the best of news for fallen men. Oh, that they would receive it with gladness!” –Spurgeon

No one is saved without the Gospel message! You can pray for someone to be saved, but until they hear the message from God’s Word, they are still lost!

Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

This gospel was preached in the Old Testament. It was foreseen and predicted that the Gentiles would be justified by faith, and not by the works of the law. The promise to Abraham was an Old Testament foreshadowing of the gospel and is the connection between Abraham’s faith and the gospel of Christ. “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).

Abraham was saved in exactly the same way as we are—by grace through faith. In the Old Testament they were looking forward to the coming of Messiah, then Jesus the Messiah came, so now we look back to His death and resurrection, and forward to His coming again. As Abraham was justified before God and accounted as righteous in his sight, by the same faith we are justified in His sight! And we share in the very same blessings given long ago to Abraham. “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

Verse 9: “So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”

Literally, “blessed together with him,” faith, the prominent feature of Abraham was his faith, and the result to all who like him have it, is justification. Those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.

“They are blessed, not with Abraham as circumcised, nor as entitled to boast of the works of the law, nor as a Hebrew, nor as relying on his own excellence, but with Abraham, who by faith alone obtained the blessing; for no personal quality is here taken into the account, but faith alone. The word Blessing is variously employed in Scripture: but here it signifies Adoption into the inheritance of eternal life.” –Calvin

“The blessing is the promise of the Gospel. That all nations are to be blessed means that all nations are to hear the Gospel. All nations are to be declared righteous before God through faith in Christ Jesus. To bless simply means to spread abroad the knowledge of Christ's salvation. This is the office of the New Testament Church which distributes the promised blessing by preaching the Gospel, by administering the sacraments, by comforting the broken- hearted, in short, by dispensing the benefits of Christ.” –Luther

The gospel is not new, faith is not a brand new concept. Faith was taught more than 4000 years ago in the Abrahamic Covenant. So, the Judaizers were wrong. With Abraham, all those who are of faith, including the Gentiles, are blessed!

The word, “blessed” means “enjoying happiness; specifically, Christianity: enjoying the bliss of heaven, that which brings pleasure, contentment, or good fortune, a state of well-being.” –Webster’s Dictionary

The Greek word for “blessed” in this passage is euolgeo meaning to celebrate with praises, to invoke blessings, to consecrate, to cause to prosper, to make happy, (real happiness unaffected by circumstances)…The world didn’t give it to us and the world can’t take it away. “Blessed” is also defined as, the state of one who has become a partaker of God; or to experience the fullness of God. The satisfaction from experiencing the fullness of something.

But many of us use the word “blessed” as referring to material things or physical well-being. If we are enjoying good health, we say, “we are blessed.” If our family is well, we consider ourselves “blessed.” If we have money in the bank and our bills are paid, we say “we are blessed.” If we live in a nice home, well-furnished, with a 60-inch screen TV, we consider it “blessed.” If we drive a nice car, not one that embarrasses us, we say “we’re blessed.” If we have the latest wardrobe, with fine expensive fashions, we may say “we are blessed.” But God says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33),

Our world is filled with unhappy, dissatisfied people searching for answers to the emptiness they feel. This explains why there is alcoholism, drug abuse, criminal behavior, immorality, divorce, depression, and psychological disorders. Seemingly, people will do anything just to try to bring some semblance of happiness into their empty lives. We are a messed up society, and we know it’s not going to get any better! If and when the world learns how to solve all of these problems through Christ, Dr. Phil, Dr, Oz, Jerry Springer, and Maury would be out of business, along with the spiritualists, palm-readers, astrologers, most psychologists and worldly counselors.

The meaning of life is not found in wealth, material things, pleasure, enjoyment, power, prestige, wisdom and knowledge, and not even in religion. Paul here is not saying, “I don’t know the meaning of life!” In every sentence there is one subject, one person who is the only key to the meaning of real life! There is only one way to find real life, Jesus said…“I am the Way (so there is no other way), the Truth (so there is no other truth), and the Life (So there is no other life). No one comes to the Father except through Me’ (John 14:6).

The only one’s who are blessed are those whose sins are forgiven, Psalms 32:1. Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1).

“Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do” (Psalm 1:1-3).

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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