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Gal 3:1-9: More Arguments for Justification by Faith Alone Print E-mail
Sunday, 23 April 2006

We often have questions that go unanswered for long periods of time.  We can probably all remember having questions that seemed to never get answered as we were growing up.  For whatever reason, we simply have to sometimes face questions without having any answers.

As we study through the Bible and move from Old Testament to New, we come across questions that do not seem to have any immediate answer.  For example, we studied the promises of God to Abraham a few months ago and asked the question: how will the nations be blessed in Abraham?  This is a question that remains unanswered throughout the entire Old Testament.  Or another question that we might ask when considering the Old and New Testaments is this: how are people saved in the Old Testament?  Likewise we might wonder: what role does the Holy Spirit play in salvation?  All of these questions, and many more, might trouble us as we study our Bibles.  Yet, the good news is that God has revealed answers to these questions, and many more (although not all), in the pages of the Bible.  In fact, the passage that we are looking at this morning from Galatians offers at least a partial answer to all of the above questions.

Yet, before we start digging in our text for these answers, we must first remember that the primary issue that Paul is continuing to address is the fact that the Galatians are being led astray by some false teachers from Jerusalem who are claming that only those who keep the Mosaic Law will be saved.  As we saw last week, Paul argues passionately in 2:15-21 that we are only justified, or declared innocent before God, through faith in Christ.  He denies that anyone can be justified by keeping the Law or doing good works.  Believing such would only make a mockery of the cross (see 2:21).  In chapter 3, Paul continues with his argument that justification is by faith alone.  Look again with me how he begins in verse 1.  Paul calls the Galatians foolish for believing such lies.  The term ‘bewitched’ refers to someone putting a spell on you.  Paul recognizes what the teachers were claiming as contrary to the gospel and is shocked by how it has impacted the Galatians.  He reminds them of his preaching and of the gospel they have believed in, namely that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.  When Paul and Barnabas came to them, they preached Christ crucified and called for the Galatians to have faith in Him.  Yet, as we have seen, now they are being tempted to abandon such truth.

Thus, from this point, Paul offers two more arguments to support the truth that justification comes by faith alone.  As we consider these arguments, we will also hear Paul’s answer to the questions we mentioned earlier.  So, let’s look at these two arguments together.

First, if we received the Spirit by faith, then we are justified by faith (v. 2-5).

In these verses, Paul argues from the experience of the Galatian believers.  Look at this series of questions again with me.  The central question is found in verse 2: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?  Paul knows that the Galatians had received the Spirit by believing in the message of Christ crucified for he was with them when this happened.  Thus, he puts the question to them: was it by works of the law or by faith that you received the Spirit.  Of course, if they answer by faith, then he has made his point.  Thus he continues in verse 3: Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  Paul wants them to see that if they received the Spirit through faith in Christ, then why are they now being tempted to place themselves under the law?  He is accusing them of failing to remember their own experience of salvation and receiving the Spirit. 

It should be noted at this point that Paul links justification and receiving the Spirit.  Thus, this passage does not support the idea that a person can ‘receive the Spirit’ at a point after their conversion.  Paul sees the filling of the Spirit and justification as occurring at the same time for the Galatians (and thus for us).  This partially answers the question of the role of the Spirit in our conversion that we mentioned earlier.  Paul continues in verse 4: Did you suffer (or experience) so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?  It seems the best translation in context is ‘experience,’ although ‘suffer’ is a possibility as well.  Either way, Paul is pointing out that to believe that they can be saved by keeping to the Law is to ignore what God has brought them through.  He brings this argument to a close in verse 5: Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you (in other words, God) do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?  Again, Paul seems to be making reference to his time among them and the miracles that God performed.  If these were done by faith, then it makes no sense to now turn to the law.

Thus, Paul’s argument in these verses is clear: if you have received the Spirit by faith, then you should not be trying to follow the law to be saved.  Or it could be said this way: justification is by faith alone because we receive the Sprit by faith alone.

Before moving to Paul’s second argument in this passage, let me draw out some implications from this first argument.  First, Paul makes it clear that our salvation does not begin with faith and then depend on works of the law.  No, salvation is from start to finish based on faith.  We are justified (declared righteous) by faith and we are sanctified (made righteous) by faith.  This is important because we often make the mistake of the Galatians in our own lives.  We think, ‘Sure I was saved by faith, but now I have to do good works in order to earn God’s favor in my life.’  Another name for this error is legalism, or thinking we can earn God’s favor through our works.  No, we are not obedient because we want to earn God’s favor, we are obedient because we have already been graciously given God’s favor through our faith in Christ.  Our faith results in good works.  Thus, Paul and James (see James 2:14-26) agree with one another (although many argue that they do not) for they both teach that we are saved by faith in Christ and such saving faith will lead, or result in, good works.

A second implication is that since we are justified by faith and sanctified by faith, then our emphasis in living the Christian life and battling against sin should be on having faith.  All sin is a result of lack of faith.  Men, if you find yourselves not loving and leading your wives as Christ has loved the Church, then you need to ask yourself this question: do I really believe that God’s plan for marriage is best?  In our battle against lust, we must believe that there is more joy in obedience than there is in disobedience.  Women, are you struggling to respect and submit to your husbands, then you need to ask a similar question: do I believe God’s plan is best?  In your fight against worry, or insecurity, you must battle to believe in a faithful God who has called you His child.  We must fight to believe.  We must keep the cross of Christ ever before us and remind ourselves that we are not slaves to sin for we have been delivered by Christ’s death and resurrection.  If we are sanctified, or perfected by faith in Christ, then we must fight to believe.

Second, if Abraham was justified by faith, then we are justified by faith (v. 6-9).

Paul knows how to argue with the Jews about matters of the faith.  He knows that they look to the Old Testament to find support for their views.  So, is there any support in the Old Testament for justification by faith alone?

The answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’  Paul says simply, ‘Look no further than Abraham for support of justification by faith.’  He has argued in verses 2-5 that the Galatians were justified by hearing with faith.  In verse 6 he tells them that this is exactly how Abraham was justified.  Look at that verse with me.  Quoting Genesis 15:6, which we read to begin our service, Paul points out that Abraham was justified by faith.  Not only this, but Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised and before the Mosaic law.  Abraham was not circumcised until Genesis 17.  Thus, when the scriptures say that God counted his faith to him as righteousness in Genesis 15, Paul sees that as confirming that justification comes through faith alone and not through circumcision.  Not only did the teachers misunderstand the gospel of Christ, they misunderstood the faith of Abraham, and the Old Testament saints, as well.  For we see in this argument Paul’s answer to the question of how people were saved in the Old Testament.  They were saved in the same way that Abraham was saved: through faith in God.  They were saved in the same way that we are saved: through faith in God, and more specifically, through faith in Christ crucified.  Thus, all salvation is by faith alone.

Going on in verses 7-9, Paul points out that through faith in Christ, we are joined with Abraham as his children and we receive the blessing that was promised to him.  Look at those verses with me.  Through faith in Christ, the Gentiles, or the nations, have been brought into the blessing that was promised to Abraham.  So, what is this blessing?  Well, in general, we could say that it means being a part of the people of God.  Yet, more specifically in our present context, it means that we have been justified, even as Abraham was justified, and it also points back to verses 2-5 and our receiving the Spirit.  Through faith in Christ we have received the greatest blessings of all, namely our innocence before God and the gift of His Spirit to guarantee our future blessing of eternity with Him (see Ephesians 1:13-14). 

Paul goes to great lengths in the book of Galatians to argue that we are saved by faith alone.  We have seen this already and will continue to see it in the weeks ahead.  Yet, at this point, it would do us good to simply pause and be thankful for salvation through faith alone.  By faith in Christ, God has joined us with a long line of believers in God.  By faith in Christ, we are a part of the Gentiles who will be blessed in Abraham.  By faith in Christ, we have been justified before Holy God, declared innocent by the true Judge of the universe.  By faith in Christ, we have received the Holy Spirit as a promise and a seal.  And by faith in Christ, through the power of the Spirit which is working in us, we are being conformed more and more into the image of Christ.  Brothers and sisters, do not miss what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do through faith in Christ.  How can you not be thankful for such grace?  Thus, may you continue in your fight for faith, being ever aware of the mercy of our God.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 26 April 2006 )

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