Paul begins to document that the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ was God's intent from the beginning, and that the divine blessing is received by faith, not by works.
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In the first two chapters of this epistle Paul defended the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ which had been revealed to him. He has been adamant about his unwillingness to allow any additions to the singular reality of the essence of the gospel in the dynamic grace of the spiritual presence of the risen Lord Jesus.
In the second major section of his correspondence, comprising chapters three and four, Paul documents that the gospel revealed to him was God's intent from the very beginning. This was necessitated because the intruding teachers in Galatia apparently suggested that Paul had overstepped the bounds of divine propriety by abandoning old covenant performance of the Law and advocating that God now functioned in Christians solely by His grace received by faith. Perhaps their argument was that "this new-fangled gospel of grace that Paul preaches is a traitorous sacrifice of all that God has revealed to His people throughout the centuries of Hebrew history." Paul counters by attempting to document from the old covenant literature (the Old Testament) itself that God's revealed intention was the restoration of all humanity universally in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, responded to in faith.
Paul's argument admittedly requires an acceptance of the progressive revelation of God concerning His intent within a new covenant in His Son, Jesus Christ. The old covenant with its external, physical emphasis of God's actions with His people, Israel, was a pictorial prefiguring of the internal, spiritual realities of the new covenant in Christ. It has been explained that "the Old Testament was the New Testament concealed, while the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed." Only as one understands the new covenant reality of Jesus Christ can he look back and understand how God was preparing and setting the stage for the revelation of His grace in Jesus Christ. The Judaic understanding of the old covenant, complete with self-oriented, exclusivistic and isolation-istic interpretations of racial, national and religious preference of God, would require complete reinterpretation. Paul had accepted such a total overhaul of old covenant concepts on the basis of the realization of the reality of the new covenant in Christ, perhaps gained by personal revelation of the Spirit of God (cf. 1:12) in the Arabian desert (cf. 1:17). He could even refer to the old covenant system as being "destroyed" (2:18). Jewish interpretation of the old covenant and the Law, retained for the most part by the Judaizers who were infiltrating the Galatian churches, failed to appreciate the new revelation of God in Jesus Christ, and sought to maintain the functional performance-orientation of the old covenant, resistant to the gospel of grace. Paul found such teaching unacceptable and intolerable, and this letter is his reaction to such.
When Paul received the report of the Judaizing interlopers encouraging the new Galatian Christians to supplement their newfound faith in Jesus Christ with outmoded functional performance of the Law, his ire was riled at such a reversionist distortion of the gospel (1:7). Reading this letter almost two millennia after it was written, we must sort through the polemic of Paul's argument, and attempt to reconstruct, as best we can, the positions and assertions he was attempting to counter. Between the lines we can sometimes detect that Paul was employing particular phrases and lines of reasoning because they were the catchwords or the misrepresentative interpretations of the intruders.
As Paul begins this second section of the epistle he transitions from the indirect instruction of reporting the Antiochan incident with Peter and the consequent theological implications contained in the synopsis of confrontational rebuke, to a direct didactic approach of challenging the consistency of the Galatian Christians. The particular argument of "righteousness by faith" had been set-up in his previous comments in 2:16,17 and 21.
3:1 Continuing to be direct and straightforward about the gospel, Paul appeals to the Galatian Christians who he personally knew and loved. He is not being unkind, nor is he skirting the issue in overly-sensitized sentimentality. To the point, he writes, "You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?" Paul was not deriding them as despicable and damnable "fools," as cautioned against by Jesus (Matt. 5:22), but is questioning whether they are using their sanctified common-sense. It is not their IQ that is in question, but whether they are utilizing the spiritual discernment that they should have by the presence of the Spirit in them (I Cor. 2:10-15). They should have been able to see the inconsistent folly of the legalistic strictures being imposed by the Judaizers. Instead, they had gullibly allowed themselves to be misled, as if they had been mesmerized, hypnotized, or put under a magical spell. Though the physical instruments of such hoodwinking were the infiltrating false teachers, the one who (singular in Greek) had bewitched them was actually the Deceiver himself, the diabolic and satanic "father of lies" (Jn. 8:44). This despite the fact that Paul and Barnabas had vividly and clearly spelled out the ramifications of the death of Jesus Christ in graphic detail when they preached "Christ crucified" (I Cor. 1:23; 2:2) among the Galatians. Paul is not implying that the Galatians saw the physical crucifixion of Jesus with their physical eyes, but that metaphorically with the "eyes of their heart" (Eph. 1:18) they understood the meaning of the death of Christ as he had powerfully placarded such to their minds. Christ did not die needlessly (2:21), but His death set in motion the "finished work" (Jn. 19:30) whereby God accomplishes the entirety of His work of redemption and restoration of man. By His death on the cross Jesus took the just consequences of men's unrighteousness in death, to make available His life of righteousness to mankind. The performance of Jesus Christ on our behalf on the cross and the grace dynamic of His resurrection-life in the Christian forestalls any meritorious, rule-keeping performance in the Christian life. If the Galatian Christians had properly understood the implications of the cross of Christ and all that was accomplished and set in motion by that substitutional act, they should not have been so easily entranced by the bedeviling suggestions of the legalists.
3:2 Flabbergasted by their gullibility and lack of spiritual understanding, Paul explains that "there is only one thing I want to find out from you..." The crux of the matter is contained in their understanding of the centrality of the gospel concerning the receiving of the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9) in spiritual regeneration. If the Galatians clearly understood, as Paul knew they did, that their initial reception of the Spirit of Christ was by faith, rather than by performance of works, then they should be able to see the error of their inconsistency in reverting to such after becoming Christians.
So the single question was, "Did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?". Paul takes them back to the commencement of their Christian lives, asking them to re-evaluate their personal experience and the means by which they received the Spirit of Christ when they were "born of the Spirit" (Jn. 3:3-9). They were not required to perform legally prescribed tasks in accord with rules and regulations, or rites and rituals, in order to meritoriously acquire a spiritual reward for obedient conformity. The spiritual reality of the life of Jesus is never acquired by requisite external actions whereby one must "do this" or "not do that" in order to become a Christian, including the keeping of the Ten Commandments of the old covenant Law. Rather, the Spirit of Christ is freely available to any person willing to receive Him by faith. The apostle John noted that "as many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name" (Jn. 1:12), also linking receiving with believing faith. William Barclay explained that "the first element in faith is what we can only call receptivity,"1 and James Moffatt added that faith is "the attitude of receptivity towards the gift of God."2 The essence of the biblical concept of faith is "man's receptivity of God's activity." Paul was reminding the Galatians that every spiritual blessing they had received (cf. I Cor. 4:7), they had received by hearing and listening to the Word of God (cf. Rom. 10:16,17), thus being available to allow the Spirit of God's Son to indwell their hearts by faith (4:6; 3:14). Paul's question did not require an answer, because he knew that the Galatians knew that spiritual regeneration was not based on performance works, but received in faith.
3:3 In light of the obviated fact of having received the Spirit of Christ by the receptivity of faith, Paul asks, "Are you so foolish?" "Where is your spiritual understanding and discernment? How can you accept such inconsistent logic that attempts to reverse the premise of God's grace received by faith?"
"Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" The Christian does not start the Christian life by one means, and then attempt to continue and finish the Christian life by another premise. It is a distorted gospel (1:7) that attempts to switch track or "switch horses in mid-stream." The way one begins the Christian life is the same basis that one must carry-on in the Christian life, for there is a consistency in God's grace activity received by faith. To the Colossians (Col. 2:6), Paul wrote, "As you received Christ Jesus (by faith), so walk in Him (by faith)." The beginning of the Christian life was by the active work of the Spirit of Christ in regeneration, and the sanctifying work of Christ throughout the Christian life is likewise the receptivity of Christ's function by the Spirit. The Spirit's presence and work is not a second act of grace subsequent to regeneration as some perfectionist theologies indicate. "He who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6), and that by the dynamic of His grace. It is possible that the Judaizers were using the term "perfected" to refer to an alleged higher level of spirituality which they were offering to lead the Galatians to via proceduralized performances a form of legalistic perfectionism. The means and methods of their perfecting of the Christian life was "by the flesh." This could refer to the physical act of male circumcision on the fleshly body, but it more likely refers to the external actions of performance in the body as one engages in the self-reliance of self-effort to accomplish the activity of self-achievement unto self-righteousness. Such was totally antithetical to Paul's concept of "perfecting holiness" (II Cor. 7:1) by the dynamic grace-expression of God's Holy character in the behavior of a Christian, thus fulfilling the end-objective of God in man divine glorification.
3:4 Still prodding the Galatian Christians to consider their initial experience of receiving the Spirit of Christ and the commencement of their Christian lives, Paul asks, "Did you suffer so many things in vain if indeed it was in vain?" The word Paul employs sometimes has a broad meaning of "experience," which could refer to the Galatians' receiving of the Spirit and walking in grace; but the word is more often used of "suffering," inclusive of ostracism, harassment and persecution. It is the Greek word from which we derive the English word "pathos." If the Galatian Christians had endured suffering, was this at the hand of the Judaizers? Though we have no record of such, it is more likely that the Galatian Christians suffered at the hands of the Jewish leaders or the Roman provincial authorities. This is not at all unreasonable to assume, given the reaction to Paul and Barnabas in those very communities of south Galatia (Acts 13:50; 14:2,5,19). The Judaizers were offering an avoidance of suffering (6:12), facilitated by identification with the Jews in circumcision and Law-keeping. Could the repeated sufferings of the Galatians have been avoided if they had simply conformed to Judaic performance standards? Was it needless suffering? Paul did not think so, for such would have meant the sacrifice of the gospel of grace and liberty in Jesus Christ. Paul was hopeful that the Galatians would see the folly of reversion to the dead-works of legalism, and recognize that their experience of suffering was not in vain. It was worth every painful moment to stand up for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
3:5 Paul asks another question as he continues to remind the Galatians of their regeneration and the subsequent outworking of God's activity in their lives. "Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" "God the Father sends forth the Spirit of the Son into our hearts" (4:6). He abundantly supplies us with the sustained dynamic of His grace in "the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:19). The continuing grace of God in the Christian by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit is "energizing dynamically" in the Christian community. In that sense God is "working miracles" by His supernatural expression and activity, even though such "miracles" may not necessarily take the form of overt sensation. Christian partakers of the Holy Spirit have tasted the powers of the age to come" (Heb. 6:5), and know that the dynamic of God's grace is active in them and through them as they are receptive to such in faith. Such divine activity is not contingent on religious performance that earns the right to such, but is readily available in the provisional resource of God's Spirit as we are receptive to His activity.
3:6 Paul now begins to document from the Old Testament that this divine method of operation by grace through faith had been God's intended modus operandi from the very beginning. The extensive (3:64:21) documentation is formulated in a well-crafted logical argument that requires spiritual discernment of the new covenant reinterpretation of the old covenant pictorialization and prototypification of God's redemptive and restorative intent in Jesus Christ. The Judaizers, with their Judaic sympathies of race, nation and religion still intact, could not (or would not) recognize the complete fulfillment of the preliminary old covenant in the new covenant of Jesus Christ. In particular, they were appealing to Abraham as their progenitor of lineal and religious descent, claiming that they were the promised blessing of multiplied posterity from Abraham. In support of their emphasis on physical male circumcision, they no doubt referenced Abraham's circumcision as a sign of the covenant (Gen. 17:4-11). Abraham's faithful performance, based on conviction and commitment, and expressed in trusting obedience was evidenced in his willingness to offer up his son, Isaac (Gen. 22:1-19). The Jewish conception of Abraham is clearly stated in the Old Testament Apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus, also known as Wisdom of Sirach: "Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations, and no one has been found like him in glory; he kept the law of the Most High and was taken into covenant with Him; he established the covenant in his flesh, and when he was tested he was found faithful" (Sirach 44:19,20). Abraham was revered by the Jewish people for his law-keeping performance and faithfulness. Paul takes the Jewish understanding of Abraham and preempts it by appealing to preceding biblical references to Abraham, prior to those being championed by Jewish religion and the Judaizers. Before Abraham's circumcision (Gen. 17); before Abraham's trusting willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Gen. 22); before there was any codified Law to perform (Exod. 20), Paul notes that "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6).
From the very beginning when God first created man as a receptive and derivative creature, the only human response solicited was receptivity to God's provision. God encouraged man to "eat freely" (Gen. 2:16) from any tree in the garden of Eden including, and particularly, the "tree of life" (Gen. 2:9). God created man as a receptive faith-creature; not as a self-generative actuator.
Abraham responded to God's direction with receptive faith, for "when he was called, he obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going" (Heb. 11:8; cf. Gen. 12:1-4). Abraham did not simply concur with mental consent in a cognitive belief that God could do what He said He would do. Rather, he responded with personal availability to what God proposed to do. That is faith: man's availability to God's ability, or man's receptivity of God's activity. Prior to any examples of Abraham's faithfulness, Paul points out Abraham's response of faith. Abraham was accepting of and receptive to God's promise of an innumerable posterity (Gen. 15:1-6), probably unaware that this applied primarily to a spiritual descendancy of faith. Paul's point to the Galatians is, of course, that the receptivity of faith is historically precedent to, and logically takes precedence over, any performance of faithfulness attributed to Abraham, and used as a law-keeping incentive as the Judaizers were doing.
The citation from Moses (Gen. 15:6) continues to indicate that Abraham's faith was "reckoned to him as righteousness." The Greek word for "reckon" was an economic accounting term referring to logical calculation that accounts an asset to someone's benefit. Does this mean that in the heavenly bookkeeping department of divine accounting that Abraham was rewarded with an entry in the righteousness column because of his faith? Does this mean that Abraham's faith is regarded as, or constituted as, righteousness? Does this mean that Abraham's faith was sufficient cause to elevate him to a conferred status or standing before God, the divine Judge, in the heavenly courtroom? These would all mitigate against Paul's argument. Consistent with the more extensive treatment of this same Genesis text in Paul's epistle to the Romans (cf. Rom. 4:3,9,22), the Greek text indicates that "Abraham's faith was reckoned unto (or towards) righteousness." Abraham's receptive faith in response to the divine promise of a spiritual posterity of faithful peoples in Jesus Christ was taken into account by God and accounted to Abraham with a view to, towards or unto the response of receptivity to the righteousness that would be revealed in Jesus Christ, the Righteous One (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; I Jn. 2:1), whose divine righteousness could be accounted to and enacted in any man receptive to such in faith (cf. I Cor. 1:30; II Cor. 5:21). Whereas the Judaizers reckoned that the faithful performance of old covenant law-keeping would constitute moral righteousness, Paul denied such by affirming that the human response of receptive faith allows all righteousness to be derived from Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, based on His "act of righteousness" (Rom. 5:18,21) in His death on the cross.
3:7 "Therefore," Paul surmises, based on the premise that all righteousness is derived from Jesus Christ through faith, "be sure that it is those who are of faith that are sons of Abraham." The true sons of Abraham are not those who have the heritage of a physical blood-line from Abraham, nor those males who are circumcised, nor those who perform faithfully in law-keeping, but the true posterity and descendancy of Abraham are Christians who by God's grace derive righteousness from Christ in receptive faith. "It is imperative that you should know and understand this," Paul wrote to the Galatians; "It is not those who ascribe to the law or submit to circumcision that are the sons of Abraham as described by God through Moses in Genesis 12, 15 and 17, but those who continue to exercise the receptive faith that was evidenced in Abraham." This must have been particularly galling to the Judaizers as they heard this letter read in the Galatian churches. For centuries the Jewish claim had been that Abraham was their father based on race, religion and national covenantal privilege. John the Baptist had confronted those who claimed Abraham as their father, contending that God could raise up children of Abraham out of stones (Matt. 3:9; Lk. 3:8). Jesus faced-off with the Jewish religious leaders who alleged that Abraham was their father (Jn. 8:39), and He asserted that spiritually they were "of their father, the devil" (Jn. 8:44). Furthermore He explained that Abraham by his receptive faith "rejoiced to see My day, and He saw it (in faith), and was glad" (Jn. 8:56). The Judaizers, operating as they were in Gentile contexts, were apparently begrudgingly willing to give up the necessity of physical descendancy in order to be sons of Abraham, but were still insisting on the likeness of deeds of performance whereby in doing what Abraham did in circumcision, law-keeping and faithful obedience persons might qualify to be identified as sons of Abraham. Paul jettisons both physical descendancy and performance deed as the criteria for identification with Abraham, arguing that the very intent of God in His promised blessing of Abraham's posterity was reference to the spiritual sons of Abraham who looked to Jesus Christ in the receptivity of faith. Thus Paul will later draw the conclusion that "if you belong to Christ, you are Abraham's offspring" (3:29). How regrettable that many Christians to this very day still interpret God's promises to Abraham as physical and external blessings, even denying Paul's statement in this verse by interpreting it to mean that "those who are of faith are like unto, or similar to, the physical sons of Abraham." A bizarre distortion of the gospel, indeed!
3:8 Pressing the documentation of his argument concerning God's spiritual and Christic intent in the promises to Abraham even farther, Paul adduces that "the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'All the nations shall be blessed in you.'" Paul appeals to the graphic writings of the Old Testament Scriptures, believing them to be the authoritative reporting of God's actions and words. God foresaw, because it was His foreknown intent from the beginning "before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4), what He was going to do to restore His righteous presence to all mankind, regardless of race, in the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ. He facilitated the pre-recording of such in the written revelation of the Hebrew Scriptures in the pre-evangelizing good news announced in the promise of blessed posterity to Abraham. Since the gospel is the good news of Messianic redemption restoring divine function in receptive mankind, Jesus could say, "Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it, and was glad" (Jn. 8:56), and the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews could declare that "Abraham saw the promises (by faith) and welcomed them from a distance" (Heb. 11:13).
Again citing an Abrahamic text from Genesis that preceded those predominantly used by the Judaizers (Gen. 17,22), Paul takes the Galatians back to the initial text concerning Abraham, where the divine promise is that "all the nations shall be blessed in you, Abraham" (Gen. 12:3; cf. Gen. 18:18; 22:17,18, 26:4; 28:14). The Jewish interpretation of this Genesis text was that all of the other nations would be blessed indirectly through the kind and well-intentioned generosity of the nation of Israel. This is not just a promise to the Jewish race, nation or religion, Paul argues, but to all ethnic people in all nations, and thus it was a preview of the gospel of Jesus Christ whose divine righteousness would be offered to the Gentiles by the receptivity of faith. In his total reinterpretation of the old covenant literature, Paul was confident that the promises of God to Abraham were fulfilled in the gospel of Christ, and that his apostleship to the Gentiles was a mission that fulfilled the Abrahamic promises. The universality of the availability of the gospel blessing in Jesus Christ would indeed come through Abraham in the Messianic genealogy (Matt. 1:2; Lk. 3:34), but Abraham's receptive faith served as the prototypical paradigm whereby solidarity with Abraham's posterity and blessing could be experienced by all peoples.
3:9 Drawing a logical conclusion from the combined Genesis texts he had just quoted (Gen. 12:3 and Gen. 15:6), Paul wrote, "So then, those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer." In the solidarity of faith comes the solidarity of blessing in Christ for all people. "Those who are of faith," distinct from those who are relying on the legalistic performance of the Law and circumcision (as the Judaizers promoted) are included in the Abrahamic blessing. Such blessing is not a physical or materialistic blessing of prosperity, nor a futuristic utopian blessing in a far-off heaven, but is the comprehensive blessing of God in Jesus Christ presently experienced by Christians. "God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 1:3). The blessing of God is Christ! The blessing that Christians have in Christ is the very blessing promised to Abraham, and appreciated by Abraham in preview and prospect as he was receptive in faith to the activity of God, including the coming of the Messiah in His redemptive and restorative work. "Those who are of faith," be they Jew or Gentile from any nation in any age can realize mutual blessing with Abraham in Jesus Christ. Abraham is called "the believer," not because of his credulous conviction of a good outcome (humanism), nor because of his faithful performance (Judaizers' interpretation), but because his receptivity to God's activity was the prototype of Christian faith.
3:10 Some have suggested that verses 10 through 25 are a protracted digression, and that verse 26 could have followed verse 9 with no loss of continuity. But we must remember that Paul was trained as a lawyer who meticulously prepared the details of his logical and legal argument. Examining the other side of the coin by turning the argument to its negation, Paul directed his attention to the concept of curse as opposed to blessing.
"For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse...," Paul explained. Those who insist upon and are dependent upon observing and performing the behavioral rules and regulations of religion (be they Jewish Law or another form), as the legalistic Judaizers were, are caught in the cursed consequences of disobedience instead of rejoicing in the grace-blessing of liberty in Christ. What a shocking statement this would have been to those sympathetic with Jewish interpretation, for Judaic thought considered God's blessing to be the result of the keeping and performing of the Law. Jewish thought was steeped in the blessing and curse contrast so extensively laid out in the Deuteronomic code (cf. Deut. 11:26-29; 21:22,23; 27:12-26; 28:1-68), which established tangible blessings for obedience to God and destructive curses as consequences of disobedience. The concept of "curse" was not the ultimate anathema of divine damnation, nor was it a vindictive imprecation of harm against another person, but it was the absence of God's protective blessing as a consequence of disobedience. In new covenant reinterpretation God's "blessing" is Christ and the fullness of His grace-activity, whereas "curse" is the absence of that Christic blessing in the frustrating consequences of the inability to perform in accord with God's perceived expectations and demands, or even one's own self-imposed expectations.
To document his shocking declaration Paul cites a verse from Deuteronomy, explaining, "it is written, 'Cursed is every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law to perform them'" (Deut. 27:26). In the Judaic covenant of performance the consequences of disobedience would necessarily come upon those who do not maintain and continue to perform perfectly and completely every detail of the Law. It was "all or nothing." One had to subscribe to the entire performance package. "Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" (James 2:10). The legalistic book-religion was unforgiving, inevitably resulting in cursed consequences of disobedience.
3:11 "That no one is justified by the Law before God is evident...," Paul continues to reason. No person can perform the rules and regulations of the Law completely and perfectly in order to be declared or made righteous either objectively or subjectively. This repudiation of Judaic performance-righteousness was stated previously in his synopsis of the rebuke of Peter, where Paul indicated that it was basic Christian knowledge "that a man is not justified by the works of the Law," and they had personally "believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law..." (2:16). Later, to the Philippians Paul would write that he did "not have a righteousness of his own derived from the law" (Phil. 3:9), and to the Romans he would assert that "by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight" (Rom. 3:20). Righteousness comes only through Jesus Christ, the divine Righteous One (Acts 3:14 7:52; 22:14), whose performance of the "righteous act" (Rom. 5:18) of taking the consequences of humanity's sin on the cross made available "His righteousness" (Rom. 3:25,26) that those who were receptive in faith might be "made righteous" (Rom. 5:19; II Cor. 5:21), both in objective status and right-standing before God and in subjective realization of His indwelling presence and character of righteousness. Since Christian righteousness is based only on the performance of Jesus Christ in His redemptive work and in His ongoing sanctifying work, it stands obvious and self-evident that no man can be made right with God or morally righteous by his own performance and achievement of religious rules and regulations.
The aforestated premise is documented by the prophet's statement that "the righteous man shall live by faith" (Habakkuk 2:4). In like manner as Jesus Christ, the Righteous Man, expressed the life of God perfectly in human behavior by the receptivity of God's activity in faith (cf. Jn. 14:10; Heb. 10:7-10), so the Christian who has been made a "righteous man" by the presence of Christ's righteousness in him shall live by allowing Christ's life to be manifested in his mortal body (II Cor. 4:10,11), exhibiting His righteous character by the receptivity of His activity in faith. No man is autonomous and independent, capable of generating righteous character by his own performance activity. God created men as dependent and contingent creatures who must derive righteous character from God through faith-receptivity. Christ is our righteousness (I Cor. 1:30); Christ is our life (Col. 3:4); and only by receptive derivation of His righteous life do we live as God intended, expressing His character unto His glory. Paul employed the same quotation from Habakkuk when he wrote to the Romans, stating that "the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, 'the righteous shall live by faith'" (Rom. 1:17), and the writer to the Hebrews also quotes the same verse (Heb. 10:38).
Protestant theology from the Reformation onwards has tended to objectify the three elements in this oft-quoted statement into static categories. The "righteous man" is considered to be one who is forensically declared right with God, juridically imputed with Christ's righteousness, and therefore legally reckoned righteous by the redemptive work of Christ. That such a righteous man "shall live" is interpreted as the heavenly imputation and investiture of Christ's life in order to live eternally in heaven. The basis of appropriating such life and righteousness is explained as the cognitive assent of "faith" whereby a man believes and accepts the historical and theological data of Christ's life and work. This tragic objectification of the reality of Christianity is woefully inadequate to express what Paul is combating in the false performance-righteousness proffered by the Judaizers. The vital subjective implications of the gospel of Christ must be emphasized to recognize how the righteous character of God indwells the receptive Christian believer in the spiritual presence of the Righteous One, in order to allow the righteous life of Jesus Christ to be lived out behaviorally by the continued reception of faith.
3:12 Only by understanding the subjective and behavioral implications of Paul's argument does the following statement make sense: "The Law is not of faith." The functional operative of the behavioral directives of the Law are necessarily demanding of personal performance, productivity and the output of behavioral conformity. The rules and regulations of the Law carry with them no inherent or intrinsic provision, resource or dynamic with which to fulfill the divine directives of expressing the divine character. There is nothing in the Law to be receptive to, for there is no dynamic intake of divine activity as there is in the grace-provision of the righteous life of Jesus Christ. Despite the long-held assertion that the old covenant Law was based on the same functional principle of faith as is the new covenant of grace in Jesus Christ, such cannot be legitimately maintained without defining grace and faith in static theological categories. Though there is a continuity with Abraham's receptivity to God, there is also a discontinuity between law and grace.
"Contrary" to any attribution of righteousness derived from receptivity to the Law, Paul quotes the explicit Old Testament directive of legalistic performance: "He who practices them shall live by them" (Lev. 18:5). Are the two Old Testament quotations from Habakkuk and Leviticus contradictory? "The righteous man shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4) "He who practices the regulations of the Law shall live by them" (Lev. 18:5; cf. Ezek. 20:11). If understood in the context of Judaic old covenant interpretation they are fully consistent, but Paul has radically reinterpreted Habakkuk from a new covenant perspective, while retaining the old covenant perspective of Leviticus as an argument against the Judaizers. Jesus retained the old covenant premise of this same Leviticus verse when He responded to the Jewish lawyer who asked what he had to do to have eternal life. When asked what the Law advised, the lawyer responded correctly, whereupon Jesus said, "Do this, and you will live" (Lk. 10:28), proceeding to tell the parable of the "wounded traveler" to illustrate the operative of grace. When he wrote to the Romans, Paul again referred to Moses' old covenant perspective "that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by that righteousness" (Rom. 10:5), noting that the Jewish peoples "sought to establish their own righteousness by performance, failing to recognize and unwilling to submit to the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ, who is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Rom. 10:3,4).
A closer look at the Old Testament text reveals the point that Paul is attempting to make. God spoke to Moses, saying, "You (the people of Israel) shall keep My statutes and perform My judgments, by which a man shall live if he does them" (Lev. 18:5). Notice the impossible conditional "if" that qualifies the "shall live" based upon the complete and perfect performance of God's statutes, the impossibility of which was already denied by citing Deuteronomy 27:26 in verse 10. Since all religious practice and performance is inevitably imperfect, then the legalistic premise of the Judaizers is therefore invalid, based on the impossibility of fulfilling the Law by human performance and the impotence of the Law to provide any empowering sufficiency that might be received by faith. Although the Judaic and Judaizing incentive was that the performance of the commands of the Law could produce life in accord with God's intent, Paul will categorically deny such later in the chapter when he states that "if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law" (3:21). Paul's reinterpretation of the Leviticus statement might be that "he who attempts to keep the works of the Law by performance shall live with the consequences of having chosen that impossible endeavor, the consequences of the impotent inability to keep the Law in the curse-consequences of frustrating failure to live up to the expectations of God, religion and oneself. Paul's objective in citing this verse therefore seems to be to expose the hopelessness inherent in the inability and impossibility of keeping the Law, so that the Galatian Christians should realize that though they could not perform sufficiently, the Spirit of Christ has and does perform sufficiently as the dynamic of all God's demands to express His character. When Jesus Christ enacts the divine character required by the law which is now written in our hearts as Christians (Heb. 8:10; 10:16), then we do indeed live by His life practiced and expressed in our behavior.
3:13 Turning to that very redemptive and restorative message of the gospel, Paul states that "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us..." Jesus paid the price of death on the cross to buy us out of the slave-market of enslaving performance in trying to keep the rules of religion, with the resultant cursed consequences of frustrating failure and disobedience due to our inability to perform the commands of the Law completely and perfectly. The death consequences (cf. Gen. 2:16; Rom. 6:23) of human sin, being the failure to align with the righteous character of God, required a vicarious substitute who would become the object of the curse on our behalf. The "iniquity of us all fell on Him" (Isa. 53:6) as He was "made sin on our behalf" (II Cor. 5:21), being constituted as the personification of all sin, incurring all of the death consequences that occurred in Adam at the Fall, in order to give Himself as a ransom for us all (Matt. 20:28). In His death Jesus essentially took all of the curse-consequences outlined in Deuteronomy 28, such as thirst, nakedness, poverty, injustice, etc., upon and within Himself, crying out "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27:46).
Paul explains that "it had been written, 'Cursed is every one who hangs on a tree.'" Though the original reference in Deuteronomy 21:23 had no reference to crucifixion on a cross, Paul is obviously drawing a connection to the Roman execution instrument of the cross, constructed as it was out of wooden cross-beams, and often referred to as a "tree." Jesus was "put to death by hanging on a tree" (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29), and "bore our sins in His body on the tree" (I Pet. 2:24). Jewish execution was enacted by stoning a person to death to reduce evil in the community (Deut. 21:21), and then the corpse was hung in a tree as a public display apparently to serve as a deterrent effect on observers (cf. Josh. 10:26; II Sam. 4:12). Whenever an Israelite saw a dead body hanging in a tree, he was to surely surmise the man whose dead body was thus publicly displayed was receiving the just consequences of disobedience. So the Jewish reaction to Christ's crucifixion, unaware of Jesus' taking the ultimate curse consequence of death for the disobedient sin of all mankind, regarded the very public display of Jesus on a tree as indicative of a deserved consequence of cursedness. The external, physical evaluation of the crucifixion event totally misses the point of the eternal, spiritual realities that transpired as Christ was crucified on the cross.
3:14 Crucifixion was God's intent for Jesus (Acts 2:23) from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). By the voluntary performance of death on behalf of mankind, the curse of inadequate and disobedient human performance was forever removed "in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles." God's promised blessing to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:1-6; 17:1-8) is fulfilled in the grace-blessing of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3), providing God's intended universal restoration of all peoples, Gentile as well as Jew, into an innumerable and unending community of blessedness in Christ. Again, this was a radical reversal of all Jewish thinking, which was retained, to some degree by the Judaizers. The exclusivism of Jewish thought attributed the curse of the consequences of disobedient lawlessness upon all Gentiles, who being "without the Law" (Rom. 2:12; I Cor. 9:21) could not be part of the covenant of promise (Eph. 2:12) or the blessing of God. Paul is declaring that the blessing of God promised to Abraham is the very blessing that God has made available to the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, on the basis of Jesus' having taken the curse consequences on behalf of all men. There are not two ways of salvation, one for the Jew and another for the Gentile (as some have indicated), but Jew and Gentile are all united as one family (3:28) of God's sons through faith in Christ Jesus (3:26). There is no intrinsic advantage for the Jews, nor any disadvantage in being a Gentile.
Furthermore, referent to the Judaizing insistence on the performance of the Law for ongoing righteousness, the performance of Christ's death was "so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith," thereby negating all performance righteousness in the Christian life as the Spirit of Christ in the Christian is allowed to express His character of divine righteousness in our behavior as we are receptive to such in faith. The promise of blessing to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3) is linked to the promise which God gave to Joel to "pour out His Spirit on all mankind" (Joel 2:28; cf. Acts 2:17), and the promise to Ezekiel, promising to "put His Spirit within us to cause us to walk in His statutes" (Ezek. 36:27), which is thus linked to the promise to Jeremiah "to make a new covenant... wherein God's law is put within men's hearts" (Jere. 31:31-34; cf. Heb. 8:10; 10:16). The promises of Jesus to send "the Helper," "the Spirit of truth" (Jn. 14:16-20,26; 15:26,27; 16:7-14), which the Father had promised (cf. Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:4) are subsequent expressions of the same promise. All the promises of God are fulfilled and affirmed in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 1:20). Jesus Christ is everything that the old covenant pointed to in its pictorial prefiguring, and everything that God has to give by His grace in Jesus Christ is received by faith, the human receptivity of His divine activity. Promises are not delivered on the basis of meritorious performance, but are received by the receptivity of faith.
It should be recognized that the propensity of man to seek moral righteousness and meaning to life by personal performance is indicative of all fallen men in their general pursuits of life, as well as all religion. Whereas religion tends to establish criteria of meritorious performance before God, the orientation of the world-order in culture and society operates on the humanistic premise of utilitarian productivity in order to perform and accomplish successes that allegedly accrue for the betterment and enhancement of mankind. The pragmatic performance of useful activistic performance is regarded as the causal means to utopian progress and perfection. God's intended function for man, having created him as a derivative creature, is that man might accept the dynamic of God's grace in Jesus Christ and be receptive to His activity, allowing for the relational and ontological expression of God's character in man's behavior unto the glory of God.3 Though the setting for Paul's reactive writing to the Galatian Christians was their tendency to revert to the legalistic performance of the Judaic regulations, Paul's explanation of receptivity to the activity of God in faith is the antidote to all religious performance standards, as well as the human potential incentives for productive performance in the humanistic and activistic orientation of Western society.
Almost everything in the world around us is measured and evaluated by performance and productivity. Students are graded by their test performance and assignment productivity. Employees receive pay increases and promotions on the basis of performance and productivity. Products are marketed on the basis of their sales performance and market-share productivity. This is, no doubt, the way it must be in the world-order. But when the same performance standards are applied within the context of Christianity and the church, which is supposed to function on an entirely antithetical mode of operation, i.e. receptivity of God's activity it is particularly appalling. Christians should not be "foolish" like the Galatians in failing to differentiate between performance-activity and faith-receptivity. Christians should know better, especially since Paul expressed the point so adamantly here in the Galatian epistle. Yet we still see the blatant examples of Christian behavior evaluated by such external criteria as clothing styles, cosmetics, entertainment preferences, alcohol consumption, etc. Commitment levels and "spirituality" are measured by active involvement in the church programs, by the performance and productivity of doing and giving. The success of the church itself is often determined by the statistical analysis of the performance and productivity of the three "Big-Bs" buildings, budgets and baptisms. Is the contemporary church, for the most part, not in the same inappropriate position as were the churches of Galatia?
The need of the hour for the modern church is to hear Paul's forceful argument to the Galatians. We need the cross of Christ vividly portrayed before our spiritual eyes, so that we might understand that the "finished work" of Christ was not only sufficient for redemption, regeneration and a destiny in heaven, but that the risen and living Lord Jesus continues to function in the finishing performance of providing the all-sufficient dynamic of His divine grace for everything in the Christian life. We need to understand that the promises of God's blessing through the patriarchs have all been fulfilled in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 1:20; Eph. 1:3). We are complete in Christ (Col. 2:10), having received everything pertaining to life and godliness in Him (II Pet. 1:3). The manifestation of His life in our behavior (II Cor. 4:10,11) is not in any way based on keeping religious rules, as if by the failure to thus perform we might de-merit the love and efficacy of Jesus Christ which we never merited in the first place, but the only Christian response to the all-sufficient blessing of God's grace in Jesus Christ is receptivity to His activity.
William, The Mind of St. Paul. London: Fontana Books.
1965. pg. 112.