Studies in Galatians: 3:1-5

galatians-mclellanSaved by Christ, sanctified by self. That’s the way some believers live. They may not believe that theologically, but functionally it governs their thought. Legalism dominates where my spiritual growth is determined by my own holiness. Paul challenges the Galatians, and us, to see that even our growth in godliness is a gift of grace. Christians are saved by grace and sanctified by grace.

Paul begins by reminding the Galatians how they came to be Christians. They were brought out of Paganism into faith because they believed the gospel message. In particular, he says:

It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. (v. 1b)

He does not mean here that the Galatians literally saw Christ crucified. They hadn’t. Rather, he is speaking of a metaphorical picture, one presented to them in the proclamation of the gospel. They heard this truth, they believed it. And what was this message, what did the “picture” contain? It was not a message of their works, their striving, their efforts; rather it was a message of Christ’s work on their behalf. The picture was of Christ crucified. That is how they were brought to salvation. He is setting them up to understand that what they were “won with” they will be “kept with.” Their salvation was by grace through faith in Christ, and their sanctification, likewise, will be a gift of grace from God.

The Galatians had “received the Spirit…by hearing with faith.” Verse 2 is a rhetorical question. They did not receive the Spirit by works of the law, since, by works of the law no one is justified (v. 16), rather it was believing in faith the message of Christ’s sacrifice. He launches into, then, a series of rhetorical questions intended to expose the lunacy of living according to legalism. He asks:

 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith (v. 3-5)

Paul is blasting the Galatians for forgetting the picture of the cross. They have moved on from the gospel and turned to focus on their efforts, their works. The false teachers had come into the church and were not just encouraging a return to the Old Covenant Law, but were in fact distorting the gospel itself. They were asserting that salvation is dependent upon your own personal holiness. That was a serious matter to the apostle.

We do this in our own ways in contemporary Christianity. We call into question one another’s salvation based on certain standards and expectations. So: who you voted for may reflect whether or not you are a Christian. What translation of the Bible you use may reflect your status in the family of God. Do you watch movies? Drink alcohol? Struggle with sin? Then you might not be a Christian, depending on who you talk to. We also condemn ourselves, looking for specific fruit or perfection in godliness. Paul urges us all to consider afresh that what we are saved by, we are also kept by. We are saved by God’s grace in Christ, and kept by God’s grace in Christ. You are not being “perfected by the flesh,” but rather being perfected by Christ himself (Phil. 1:6).

Even the miraculous works, Paul says, are not of your doing but of the Spirit’s doing. There are some in the Charismatic/Pentecostal movements that need this reminder. You cannot conjure up the gifts of the Spirit, or compel the Spirit’s power by your efforts. Works of the law do not produce the works of miracles, that is an act of faith in the Spirit as we wait on His timing. All things, Paul says, point us away from ourselves and to the God of grace.

It’s not, of course, that our striving after godliness is irrelevant. James offers some important balance to this whole question by reminding us that faith without works is a dead and useless faith (James 2:14-26). Yet, Paul’s point remains significant: we are saved by grace and we grow by grace. We depend on God even as we strive for holy living. We need both messages at various times in our lives. The Galatians especially needed Paul’s lesson at this point in history. Do you need this reminder too?

Are you discouraged and defeated by sin in your life? Do you need to remember that God saves and God keeps you (1 Thess. 5:23-24). Do you need to let go of failure, ask for forgiveness and trust in His grace (1 John 1:9)? Are you tempted to judge your relationship with God on your performance? Remind yourself that Jesus saves and sanctifies. Listen to Paul’s words to the Galatians and let them sink in. Jesus saves and Jesus sanctifies.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you Dave for this information on Galatians it was inspiring and encouraging and uplifting to me! I thank you so much and I pray that God bless you mightily see you in church!
    Elaine gay

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