The Law and the Gospel – Galatians 3

Read the Passage: Galatians 3

Gospel and the Law (3:1–9)

As a means of combating the works-based salvation and law-based sanctification message of the Judaizers, as well as confirming the validity of his own message, in Gal. 3:1–9 Paul begins to marshal additional evidence for the gospel of salvation by faith alone. In Gal. 3:1–4 Paul first appeals to the Galatians’ own experience of salvation. As Paul alludes to, the Galatians were saved “by the hearing of faith” (Gal. 3:2). Indeed, the fact that the Galatians were saved by God’s grace, and not by works, made their entertaining of a works-based salvation scheme “foolish” (Gal. 3:1, 3). Paul points out that the Judaizer had “bewitched” (Gal. 3:1a) them, implying emotional manipulation or magical deception, while Paul had “clearly portrayed” (Gal. 3:1b) Jesus Christ crucified, which implies public proclamation of truth or facts.

In Gal. 3:5–9 Paul furthers his case against the Judaizers and for the gospel by appealing to history, showing that works-based salvation is absent from the pages of Scripture. As the apostle notes, even Abraham was justified “by the hearing of faith” (Gal. 3:5). This argument would have been devastating to the Judaizers, for Abraham was the first to be circumcised in Scripture (cf. Gen. 17:24). In an arresting verse, Paul notes, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed’” (Gal. 3:8). This is similar to Jesus’ statement, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Moreover, Paul teaches that “only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham . . . [and] are blessed with believing Abraham” (Gal. 3:7, 9).

Effect of the Law

In Gal. 3:10–14, Paul further discusses the effect of putting one’s hope in the law for justification or sanctification. In this passage Paul quotes the Old Testament four times to argue the point that natural man’s attempt at salvation by law-keeping will always end in failure. Further, Paul teaches that Jesus has taken away this curse by becoming a curse for us. To elaborate: First, in Gal. 3:10 Paul quotes Deut. 27:26 to argue that salvation by the law would require total law-keeping. Second, in Gal. 3:11 Paul quotes Hab. 2:4 to show that God’s plan has always been salvation through faith in Christ. Third, in Gal. 3:12 Paul cites Lev. 18:5 to show that salvation by faith and by law are mutually exclusive concepts. Fourth, in Gal. 3:13 Paul quotes Deut. 21:23 to show that Jesus Christ has provided substitutionary atonement for all who put their faith in Him.

Some of the Judaizers may have agreed that Paul was correct in teaching that salvation by faith was God’s plan under Abraham. Yet, they may have taught that under Moses, God changed his plan to salvation by law-keeping. In view of this idea, in Gal. 3:15–18 Paul addresses this argument by teaching that when God made a covenant with Abraham in Gen. 12:1–3, it was actually not Abraham’s descendants who were in view, but Jesus. The specific verse Paul cites is Gen. 12:7. Paul’s argument, then, is this: Since covenants are indissoluble, if God initiated a covenant with Abraham that focused upon Jesus and the salvation made possible through faith in Him, which was facilitated via the cross, then: (1) it is impossible for this not always to be the way of salvation, and (2) it cannot have been altered by the statement of the moral law four hundred and thirty years later on Mount Sinai. Indeed, the statement of the moral law on Sinai was nothing new–it had always been in effect since creation, for sin is breaking the moral law (cf. 1 John 3:4).

Purpose of the Law (3:19–29)

After continuing to argue against works-based salvation in Gal. 3:10–18, Paul address the logical question that would have been on his readers’ minds, “What purpose then does the law serve?” (Gal. 3:19). In the following eleven verses the apostle gives and explains three purposes for the law. First, Paul answers, “It [i.e., the law] was added because of transgressions . . . . We were kept under guard by the law” (Gal. 3:19, 23). Second, the apostle noted that “The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ that we may be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). Third, Paul teaches, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). In classical Protestant theology these three purposes that Paul cites are called the social use of the law, the convictional use of the law, and the pedagogical use of the law. To illustrate, the law is a chain, a mirror, and a lamp.

Application Questions:

  1. What is the proper relationship between works and the gospel? What kind of works ought Christians to perform (cf. Phil. 2:12–13)?
  2. Why are Christians prone to forget the gospel? Why are we tempted toward a works-based justification and sanctification?
  3. In what sense can Gen. 12:3, which Paul quotes in Gal. 3:8, be said to be the gospel message (cf. Luke 16:31; Col. 1:23; Heb. 4:2)?
  4. Why is the world attracted to works based salvation and offended by the idea of substitutionary atonement (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:8–10; 1 Pet. 3:18)?
  5. If God’s plan has always been salvation by faith alone, why did He give the law to His people on Mount Sinai?