Updated: Jan 24, 2019
The incredible truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that salvation comes through grace. There is nothing we can do to atone for our own sins. There is no way to make things right with God through our own good decisions. We are alienated from Him, set apart from Him, even hostile to Him, when we are thrown back on our own power and strength. We cannot be justified by the law since we cannot keep the law.
Yet, like Abraham, we can believe the promises of God, and that belief, that faith and trust, can be credited to us as righteousness. Through faith, God has chosen to justify both Jew and Gentile (3:8). The Apostle Paul notes that Abraham was justified by faith before the law was given to Moses. God has been working redemption prior to Moses, He accomplished redemption in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and He now is applying that redemption to His chosen people. Our inheritance, like Abraham’s, comes from God’s promise, not from our own law-keeping (3:18).
Why, then, was the law given to Moses? It was to reveal our sin (3:22) and to lead us to God’s redemption in Christ (3:24). But, Christ has now come. We no longer need ceremonial washings, cycles of feasts, and spiritual seasons which point toward a future hope (4:9). Our hope has appeared and has brought salvation to all those who believe. We are no longer under a tutor, but are mature sons (3:26), heirs of God’s promise of salvation (3:29). The incredible truth is that God has saved His people, and by his grace which produces faith in our hearts, we are reconciled to him and made a part of His family.
The promise is given to all who believe, both to Jews and to Gentiles, rich and poor, master and slave, male and female (3:28). All believers are “one in Christ Jesus” (3:28). Our spiritual standing with God, as members of his family and heirs to the promise, comes from His will and calling, not from any human status we have on this earth. The gospel does not abolish human distinctions -- we are still to “honor the king” (1 Pet 2:17) – but it prevents them from being primary. We’re all redeemed in the same way: by faith.
The Apostle Paul taught these things to the churches in Galatia and they became followers of Christ through him. He describes them as his “children,” with whom he is “in labor until Christ is formed in you” (4:19). Have you “labored” to bring someone else to Christ? Yes, God is the one who calls, regenerates, justifies, and sanctifies. But, he often uses ordinary means to accomplish extraordinary ends. Are you currently “laboring” to help see Christ formed in someone else? Let’s go one step further: have you taken steps to proclaim God’s truth even in the hardest situations? The Apostle Paul could say he “bore on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (6:17). Giving birth. Being beaten. This is what the work of evangelism often looks like. The British minister Charles Spurgeon called the work of Evangelism “soul-winning.” It can be laborious and painful, but just like the difficult work of raising children it produces great joy in the end. Are we doing this in our own lives?
Paul’s fear for the churches in Galatia is that they are turning back from God’s salvation through grace and seeking to be found righteous because of how well they keep the law. Paul declares to the Galatians that righteousness does not come through law: “through the works of the law no flesh will be justified” (2:16). Having begun well, they are slipping back into thinking they are justified by the keeping of the law. Brothers and sisters, what are we trusting in our salvation? Where do we find hope and confidence? If the Apostle Paul were here with us, and knew us inside and out, how would he try to shake us up and warn us? This hope and confidence can only be found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He shows us God’s grace. He reconciles us to our maker. He redeems our souls.
After receiving this profound truth we might wonder: if righteousness comes by faith, do we need to live righteously? After all, if God has accomplished salvation for us, then it seems like nothing we do really “matters.” The reality is that the life of Christians is one of holiness. The Apostle Paul says we must “walk by the Spirit” (5:16) and wage war against the deeds and passions of our old life. Now we, “through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness” (5:5). In fact, our very lives have become a place of God’s activity in the world. After God redeems us, our lives are conformed to His holy nature: For, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me” (2:20).
What an incredible reality – that God would set us free from a law we cannot keep, and give us His Spirit to produce holiness. Rather than boasting and envying (5:25) we can live in peace, kindness, and self-control (5:22-23). Rather than biting and devouring one another (5:15) we can “do good to all” (6:10). We are now free from the crushing weight of condemnation from the law. We are “a new creation” (6:15).