What promise does faith receive? It becomes clear throughout chapter three, though we are only covering the first nine verses here. The promised Spirit, the inheritance, eternal life, the right to become a child of God; all who believe are “blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (verse 9)
Galatians chapter three mentions Abraham nine times! We can be sure Paul taught these churches the whole story of redemption to begin with, and that this is not the first time they are hearing Abraham’s name. They are learning (perhaps again) and we are learning or being reminded too–there is continuity between the testaments. Our story of redemption begins in the garden, and continues through covenants, promises, law, and the gospel. Though Paul never taught law keeping, we must respect the law’s place without elevating it to the status of “life giving” or “justifying”. The just shall live by their faith.
Thus, this section begins with “Foolish Galatians! Who has hypnotized you???” What dark magic has come upon you to rip you away from the truth? Christ crucified was placarded before your very eyes. The entire gospel was made so clear, as clear as a billboard. Paul’s public proclamation, his extensive teaching, had every detail. Paul painted a verbal picture so well, not abstract or impressionism, but true painting that set forth all the truth and goodness and beauty of the Gospel. There was no room for doubt, or wondering if Paul left out anything. Can you remember reading a favorite novel, and envisioning every part? Then you see the movie, and you remember so well that the movie, having left details out, can be at times disappointing? The telling of the Gospel was that vivid–the Galatians knew well, had it ingrained in their minds. Yet they struggled to cling in faith to what they had heard, the Judaizers’s checklist sounded so appealing.
In verses 2-5 we deduce that the hearing and believing was accompanied by the gift of the Spirit. There is no higher privilege in this land of pilgrimage. They had received promise of the Spirit, Who would comfort, teach, lead and guide. Paul spends a moment using questions to help them recall how this came about. Was it by faith? By believing? That seems so simple, could it be true? We are not in control of something like that–so our reason, indeed the very core of our humanness, rebels. Our need for control, or to captain our own ship, tells us “I must do something so that I may know!” The Judaizers wanted to add in lawkeeping (mainly circumcision, and keeping of festivals and holy days), the Roman Catholic church has added in baptism (to receive the Spirit), and various other acts to earn less time in their imagined purgatory. Evangelicals I have worked alongside have struggled with their own unofficial to-do lists of how to maintain a right standing before God (and one another, sadly). So Paul, led by the Spirit of course, asks his next question: did you begin by the Spirit yet not continue in the Spirit?
The gift of the Spirit, seen by the fruits He produces in our hearts, confirms Christ’s redemptive work in a believer–He does not give His Spirit to bless our obedience. If there is any fruit in our lives, it is on account of the Spirit abiding in us.
Faith is honoring to God, glorifies Him, is our first and best obedience (obedience of faith written of in Romans 1) . Without faith we cannot please God! Our western minds protest that this is not enough! So we do things to curry favor with God: fast, pray, suffer, make deals. As Luther says:
We intend to appease the wrath of God and to deserve God’s grace by exertions. But there is no glory in it for God, because by their exertions these workers pronounce God as an unmerciful slave driver, an unfaithful and angry judge, they make a liar out of Him, snub Christ, crucify Him all over again, and in short dethrone Him and perch themselves in His place.Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1937), 99-100.
OUCH! Have you ever tried to appease God? Let us denounce this lie of Satan, this suggestion of Judaizers and other false teachers. Let us rather remember that we glorify Him most by running to Him as to our Father, expecting care and refuge and Living Water.
True children, those who really are sons of Abraham, are so by faith, and are therefore heirs, and can cling to all the promises. Gentiles and Jews alike are children by adoption, by faith. (cf John 1:12, Romans 9:6-8, Galatians 4:28) No one is physically born into the family of God, we must be born of the Spirit. Now, a true feminist rejoices in being called a son, because the point is that true believers are all made heirs–not that we are all made masculine. In Christ, no fleshly distinctions matter; God’s redeeming love is not restrained by culture, by sex, by family history, or by any other earthly category.
And so looking at the covenant promises given to Abraham, found in Genesis 12:3, 17:4, 18:18, 22:18, 26:4, Paul announces that the Gospel was beginning to shine through even then, since God had announced that Gentiles would be blessed.
We come next to a verse quoted from Habakkuk 2:4b, and quoted again in Romans 1:17. The verse that began the reformation in Luther’s heart, leading to the Protestant Reformation (for which I am thankful–to be under the Word, and not have it mediated by any human usurping the role of the Spirit). The righteous shall live by faith. Live. By faith. Not by striving. He promised joy and peace, not drudgery and uncertainty. We receive this gift of faith and are able to stand then in His grace (Romans 5:1-2) and exult in in the midst of whatever we experience during the rest of our sojourning days. Faith will prove to be our trusty shield, and lead us victoriously through every battle (putting out the fiery darts mentioned in Ephesians 6, and giving us the victory mentioned in 1 John 5). Living by faith, knowing Him, believing Him, this is the beginning of eternal life.