Galatians 3:1–3, 10–14, 19–26comment (0)
July 7, 2011
By James R. Strange
Related Scripture: Galatians 3:1–3, 10–14, 19–26
Bible Studies for Life
Assistant Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University
Galatians 3:1–3, 10–14, 19–26
Galatians is one of Paul’s most contentious letters. It stands in great contrast to, say, Philippians, which is full of warm praise and gratitude, and Philemon, in which Paul took a deferential tone when writing to a powerful person. Not so in Galatians, which he wrote to many different churches in a region (In Paul’s time, Galatia was a province of the Roman Empire in central Asia Minor, roughly present-day Turkey.). This probably helps to explain why Paul was so upset (see Galatians 1:6–9; 3:1; 4:12): The trend he was battling affected many congregations in many cities.
The background to the letter is that Paul preached the gospel of Christ in Galatia’s cities and many Gentiles became believers. Then some began listening to what Paul called “a different gospel” (by which he meant no gospel at all; Gal. 1:6–7). Apparently Christian Jews persuaded some that the next necessary step was for the Galatian males to accept the sign of God’s covenant, or circumcision, and so demonstrate that Christ’s followers were now incorporated into Israel (see Galatians 6:14–16). Now remember that Paul was not opposed to doing works of the law in and of themselves, so we must surmise that someone convinced these believers that circumcision was not a voluntary act of piety but necessary to be in right relationship with God (to be “righteous” or “justified”). Such a teaching negated Paul’s teaching that it is God, through Christ, who justifies.
Aren’t present-day Christians also likely to forget this truth in favor of a personal checklist of righteousness?
Forgetting Faith (1–3)
How do believers abandon the gospel? For Paul, the first step was to forget how we received the Spirit and were transformed into followers of Christ. Did any readers of The Alabama Baptist become believers by performing pious acts (even really righteous ones)? Or did you become believers by believing (Paul said “hearing of faith”)? In “Surprised by Joy,”C.S. Lewis said he was not quite sure how it happened, but, “When we set out [for the Whipsnade zoo], I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo, I did.” Surely traveling to the zoo was not a pious act. Lewis — like us and the Galatians — was transformed from nonbeliever to believer — from no faith to faith — by God through Christ.
Pursuing a Religious Checklist (10–14)
The second step in abandoning the gospel is to become convinced that we really do work our way into (and, by extension, fall out of) God’s good graces, that by living a certain way, we are in a higher state of righteousness than those who do not. Unlike the Galatian believers, we do not have the Torah, but we do invent checklists, don’t we? Those lists can include everything from attending church to voting “correctly.” What happens when we encounter people who can’t check off the items on our lists? Don’t we question where they will spend eternity? This is called judging a neighbor. Remember to judge another is not to take him or her to task for doing wrong (Indeed we are called to make those kinds of judgments.). Rather to judge is to question whether a fellow believer really is a Christian and so to consign him or her to perdition. That is God’s right, not ours (compare James 4:11–12).
Embracing Faith in Christ (19–26)
How do we remember the gospel that was our first love? We recall that God alone is our source of righteousness.
English translations of Galatians are heavily influenced by the legacy of Protestant reformer Martin Luther. For example, modern translations (including the King James Version) are likely to say something like “so that what was promised through faithinJesus Christ might be given to those whobelieve” (22) and so stress the human act of believing. But the Greek clause really reads, “so that what was promised through thefaithofJesus Christ might be given to those whofaith(Using faith as a verb like this really doesn’t work in English.).” Rather than emphasizing human belief, Paul was more likely talking about Jesus Christ’s faith: God justifies/makes righteous through Christ’s act of faithfulness — His obedience that led to His death on the cross (compare Romans 5:18–19).
How can any checklist of ours accomplish that? God has already taken care of it.