“After he had sufficiently proved his apostleship, message and ministry, with strong arguments confirming that Christian righteousness comes only by faith in Christ, he turns to the Galatians and reproves their error”.
Their great folly in this affair was that they had become dangerously distracted from Christ. By holding to the notion that by seeking to keep the requirements of another message- that they could do better, be better - they had become mesmerised by a deceit, and this idea had become so pervasive, that it had caused them to become drawn away from the true focus of their faith – faith (trust) in the work of Jesus at the cross (Vs 1). That had been all that Paul had been seeking to do – to make the death of God’s Son evident amongst them – that Jesus had come and died for them, but by trusting in something else, they made that gift of no value.
The blinding subtlety of this lie had even made them forget something which was entirely obvious. They had not been rescued from their previous bondage to sin by any message about keeping particular rules or practices – this would have been of no avail. They had been set free by trusting on Christ alone (Vs 2). Why, then, were they now seeking to place their confidence in something which had never helped them and would, if they continued in such folly, totally destroy their dependence upon the one who had saved them (Vs 3)?
This, of course, raises other questions.
What was the point of being a Christian, suffering the animosity of the world, if what God has done in Christ actually amounts to no value to us at all (Vs 4)?
Had the Gospel, seen in power amongst them, come in any way related to the heinous lie now being perpetrated by those who were false teachers – did it any way condone a keeping of the law (Vs 5)?
The answer was and always had been no, and here, Paul will show why those who are advocating such a menace were wrong about their very own heritage.
The lesson from Genesis
Abraham, the great patriarch of the Jews, had been called from his life in a pagan society, not by a decree to keep various commands and requirements, but simply to follow God – to leave where he had lived and to trust in the one who called him (Vs 6. Hebrews 11:8-10). Likewise, as children of the same calling, we equally are to trust in the same Lord who required Abraham to have confidence in Him (Vs 7). This is what makes us children of the patriarch and therefore true children of God – that we trust God’s call and have confidence in it. Abraham’s role wasn’t just to have an heir who would lead to another tribe and eventually another nation – his purpose was to have a child from whose line would come the very seed of promise to Eve (Genesis 3:15, John 8:56), through whom, every tribe and people would be blessed by having faith in that very child (Vs 8), so it is by the wonderful gift of faith in God’s purposes and deeds through His Son, coming from that calling, that we are truly favoured (Vs 9). Here is the amazing work and heritage the legalists had forgotten, and here is why we can only be made right and find peace with God through the same way the Lord provided to Abraham.
The message of the Law is contrary to this (Vs 10 & 12), and is therefore a dead-end, a road to nowhere, because all it can achieve is our condemnation, as we simply are incapable of keeping its demands (look at Jesus’ teaching about this in the sermon on the mount – especially Matthew 5:21-30). There is no refuge, no rescue, no safety here – we are only made free by the precious work of God, made ours through faith (Vs 11).
The great blessing which God gave to Abraham, of knowing Him by trusting in His promises, has become ours, notes Paul, because Christ has removed the road-block of the Law’s curse (our inability to fulfil it’s requirements) by becoming cursed on our behalf – by having Himself go through the separation of death which the Law and sin bring upon us, that we might be given new life by Him, who has nullified the Law’s requirements against us (Vs 13, 14).
In our lives, notes the Apostle, promises made between us - wills and agreements of that nature – are treated with the utmost respect once they are deemed to be ratified, so how much more seriously we need to treat this covenant which God makes with Abraham and his offspring – the true seed, Jesus Christ (Vs 15 & 16). The Lord bound Himself to this, says Paul, some 430 years before the Law was given, which means that the promise made to Abraham regarding His descendent, is far more essential than any Law (Vs 17 & 18).
Life and Death
So, what, then, is the purpose of the Law?
Paul tells us it only has one major use – to show us what we are by nature… those who cannot keep such demands for a truly caring and honest life, because we are poisoned by corruption. The Law exposes our nature because its confirms that we are indeed a race gone astray, in total need of the fulfilment of that promise – that one will come to rescue us (Vs 19).
Christ, the mediator between God’s holiness and our iniquity was the only one who could meet the requirements of the Law that hung over us and free us from sin and death (Vs 20). If we had not fallen, the Law could indeed have been a rule for life, but we are concluded as those who have broken such a Law, so the only escape is in Christ (Vs 21, 22).
The proper purpose, then, of the Law is to expose our poverty and thereby to push us towards God’s faithful work in sending the one who makes us free. Once it has done that, it has completed its work, and Christ does the rest, and we become brought into a new life (Vs 24-27).
The danger of the use of the law as a false gospel, is it seems so reasonable to our own estimation of what should matter – we can be pious, charitable, even noble, but that is painfully untrue, which is why really seeing the Law, and really understanding faith calls us to so much more.
Abraham was required to believe that God would bring about the promised seed from the aged bodies of Sarah and himself. Reason would say it couldn’t be. We are called to believe in a kingdom to come because of a Virgin giving birth to one who, after the cruellest death, rose to life again. The work of the kingdom leaves our own thoughts and endeavours far behind and requires us to trust in the work of one who works far above what we can ask or think.
In the new life, then – the fulfilment of God’s promises – there is no longer any of the old distinctions which made some to be Jews and others Gentiles. There is no longer a segregation of male and female (both of which are essential under the Law) – we are all the children of the seed of Abraham, looking forward to the culmination of God’s great and precious promises to that people who are His children in Jesus Christ (Vs 29).