The Law and the Promise

  Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29  

We are in the second of three studies in a mini-series on the Book of Galatians. Last week, in chapters 1 and 2 Paul defended his gospel of justification by faith and his apostleship. In chapter three Paul continues his defense of the gospel.

Let’s dive in:

The chapter begins with Paul expressing his amazement and alarm that the Galatians are accepting “a different gospel”.

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified (Galatians 3:1).

That Paul is upset is seen in the fact that he refers to his audience as “foolish”. Way to win friends and influence people, Paul! How would you feel if I began my sermon by calling you foolish?

The behavior of the Galatians has been very foolish. Paul had clearly proclaimed the death of Christ on the cross for their sins to them. The words “clearly portrayed” mean “to write something in large letters so that it may be clearly read” as words on a billboard. Even though Paul had “billboarded” the death of Christ for them, they were placing themselves under the Jewish law. This is so incomprehensible to Paul that he can only explain it as the result of bewitchment.

Then, in verses 2-5 Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions designed to show that they had received the Spirit by faith not works.

You have the Spirit.


You are Gentiles.


Did the Spirit come by:

Following the Law? <–OR-> Believing what you heard?

This is the same argument used by Peter in Acts chapter 10. There, Peter has just preached the gospel to Gentiles for the first time in the house of Cornelius and . . .

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (Acts 10:44-47)

Just as with Cornelius, confirming signs and wonders among the Galatians were evidence of the Spirit’s work. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know if they spoke in tongues or if there were other miraculous signs, but Paul’s point here is that they received the Spirit when they believed—with NO LAW REQUIRED (vs. 5).

In verses 6-9 Paul does an amazing thing--he uses Abraham as an example of a person who was justified by faith. This is amazing because in a Jewish context an argument from the life of Abraham was about as persuasive as you could get. Undoubtedly, Paul’s opponents in Galatia used Abraham as an argument in favor of the need for circumcision, because it was to Abraham that God gave the covenant of circumcision.

Paul’s masterstroke is that he goes back in the history of Abraham to a time before his circumcision and shows that it was Abraham’s faith that was “credited to him as righteousness” (vs. 9). That quotation is from Genesis 15, Abraham’s circumcision is in Genesis 17. Paul is saying that Abraham was justified by faith--NO circumcision and NO law necessary.

One of the most interesting statements in this passage is that the salvation of the gentiles had been foreseen and that God announced the gospel in advance to Abraham (v. 8). What was the gospel God announced to Abraham? “All nations will be blessed through you” (vs. 8, Genesis 15:6). This promise is being fulfilled in the preaching of the gospel to the gentiles—a gospel which declares all “those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (v. 9).

Verses 10-22 were not part of our reading, but they are an important part of Paul’s defense of the gospel of justification by grace through faith. So, we will talk about them briefly, even though he will not read them.

The question which Paul addresses in verses 10-22 is, if God justifies people by faith, why did he give the law in the first place?

Paul asks, “Is the law opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not!” (v 21). Indeed, the law is good. First, law is necessary for a good society. It defines the boundaries of acceptable behavior. It gives structure to society.

The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. Now, they were going to be a free nation. God, in his love, gave them the laws to regulate their society.

But the law was never intended to be a means to salvation.

Law condemns all because no one can keep it perfectly:

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law” (vs. 10).

It cannot save anyone, because it remains external and cannot change our hearts.

Moving on to verses 23-29 . . .

The purpose of the law, Paul says, is to be “our guardian until Christ came” (vs. 24). “Guardian” is the word paidagōgos in the Greek, from which we get the word pedagogue. It refers to a trusted slave who was given the task of watching over children until they reach maturity. Once the child had grown, a guardian was no longer necessary. The application is plain: “Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian” (vs. 25). So, when we placed our faith in Christ, the law’s function as a guardian was fulfilled and following the law was no longer necessary.

Because all come to God by faith in Christ, all are on an equal footing, and “you are all children of God through faith” (vs. 26). In Christ, all social barriers are abolished.

There is neither . . .

Jew / Gentile

Slave / Free

Male / Female

All are one in Christ (vs. 28)

Children of Abraham

And heirs of the promise (vs. 29)

As Abraham’s children through faith we have been blessed to be a blessing to all nations. Therefore, the last thing we should be doing is erecting man-made barriers between people and God—making becoming a Christian about keep a list of rules rather than about believing in Jesus.

The only law that Christ gave was to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind . . . and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-40).

Let’s do that.