Epistle to the Galatians 3–4:7

Pekka Jauhiainen
Reija Becks

The Galatians' own experience when they heard the gospel – Gal. 3:1–6

The centre of Paul's proclamation was Jesus Christ. His letters convey the idea that at his first encounters, he emphasized Jesus Christ who gave himself to die on the cross. This is especially conveyed in Galatians and in 1 Corinthians, in which he uses their first encounters as an example (Gal. 2:19-20; 3:1; 1 Cor. 1:17, 18, 23-24; 2:2). In the Letter to the Galatians, Paul uses the Galatians' own experience to explain which one is the basis for our lives – the law or the gospel of Jesus Christ. At the same time, he leads them to the source from which we receive the Holy Spirit.

The starting point and foundation of the Christian life is Christ's work on the cross. It is this same foundation that Paul wants the Galatians and all of us to rely on. He does this by reminding them of the situation when he preached in Galatia (Gal. 3:1-5). That passage brings up the following points:

  1. Paul had described the crucifixion event so in depth that it was as if they saw Christ crucified. Crucifixions were a common sight for the Galatians and for all other people living in the Roman Empire. There may have been plenty of crucified people along the roads – enemies of the Roman Empire and major criminals.

  2. Christ's work on the cross is the source of receiving the Holy Spirit. Thus, faith in Jesus is the source for us to receive the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote about this same foundation in the next chapter too (Gal. 4:4–6).

  3. If the basis of your life is the law, then you are depending on your own abilities in your life before God. When your life is based on the gospel, you get the support of the Holy Spirit, who leads you to live in the right way.

  4. When you believe in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will work in you in many ways. Sometimes this also manifests as powerful phenomena. It has happened particularly in various turning point moments (see Acts 2:10).

There is no stronger foundation for life than the work of Jesus Christ.

Even Christians often begin to build their lives on the foundation of their own actions. In that case, the basis of their lives is on their own abilities. Paul wanted to lead the Galatians to base their lives on a more perfect foundation. Jesus' work is perfect, whereas a life lived on your own is full of contradictions and getting lost. The work of the Holy Spirit in a person is also perfect. Although there is still the old man in the Christian, the Holy Spirit is working through people.

As the closing note of the section, Paul brings up Abraham – because Abraham believed in God’s promise, he too was also counted as righteous before God. Paul goes on to discuss this topic using two different examples.

Abraham’s faith and the law – Gal. 3:7–18

Abraham is a very important figure for the Jews. The history of the Jewish people is said to have started with Abraham, and God's promises to Abraham are the basis for the existence of the Jewish people. Now Paul brings the promises given to Abraham and the faith that Abraham had as an example of faith in Jesus Christ. This faith is without the law.

Before beginning this section, Paul took a verse from the Old Testament (Genesis 15:6) that talks about Abraham's faith in God's promise. Paul wrote:

”Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’”.
(Gal. 3:6)

God's promise is an important keyword in the passage. God's promise is something so powerful that it brings about great things in our lives. After all, behind these promises is the real God, who can create anything out of nothing and can make the dead live (Romans 4:17). When God promises something, it will surely happen.

Although the Jews consider Abraham a significant figure for their people, Paul expands the idea and cites another promise of God: “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Gal. 3:8; Genesis 12:3). Paul says that faith is the means by which this blessing can be received. The Old Testament texts speak from beginning to end about the coming of the Messiah, or Jesus Christ, into the world. Even in the passages that talk about Abraham, we can find many promises about the coming of Jesus. Paul takes one example of them and writes about the prophecy foretelling about the offspring (Gal. 3:16):

“Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring.”

This was a prophecy about Jesus and what he will do. Also, the promises given to Abraham and many events in his life testified about the coming Messiah. The Bible shows that Abraham believed God's promises.

In the present section, there are varying thoughts about blessing and curse and from which source they are received. False teachers claimed that the Galatians would have to follow the Mosaic law in order to receive a blessing in their lives. Paul teaches that through faith in Jesus Christ, they have the blessing that Abraham received. This blessing does not come through the law, which was not given until 430 years after Abraham. Abraham did not need the law of Moses to receive the blessing. Why then would the Galatians need the law of Moses for this.

Paul could have said in this context that Abraham was not even circumcised when he was considered acceptable to God, i.e. righteous. This is what Paul teaches in Romans (Gal. 3:17; Rom. 4:9–10). The Holy Spirit and his gifts are at the core of the blessing. The Galatians had already received this gift through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:14).

The false teachers who had come to Galatia demanded that the Galatians have circumcision and follow the Mosaic law in certain respects. In this section, there is one of Paul's most important arguments in the letter: anyone who obeys the law cannot choose only certain parts of the law but must obey it in its entirety.

It is characteristic of us humans to choose rules that serve us well and are convenient to follow. Such was also the formula offered by the false teachers in Galatia. By picking and choosing regulations, it is easy to think of oneself as being a very good person. Referring to the law of Moses, Paul rejects this way of thinking. The entire law must be kept and whoever breaks it in even one part is cursed before the law (Gal. 3:10; 5:2–3).

Since even the best of the best have not been able to live in accordance with God's will, another way of living with God is needed. For Paul, it was believing in Jesus Christ. At the centre of this faith is Jesus Christ, who became a curse for us (Gal. 2:19–20; 3:13). So, Jesus has taken upon himself the punishment that according to the law should be ours. By believing in Jesus, we can receive the same blessing that was promised to Abraham.

Captivity to the law and God’s solution to the imprisonment – Gal. 3:19–4:7

If God's promises are received through faith, why then is there a need for law? Paul answers this next. At the same time, he explains God's solution to the problem revealed by the law.

First off, Paul says that the law was given through angels. Thus, he shows that the law is in itself inferior to Jesus – after all, the authority of the mediator is different, if we compare the authority of an angel with that of Jesus. This same thought structure is used in the Letter to the Hebrews, in which Jesus is compared to angels, Moses and many other figures – Jesus is much greater than all of them – after all, he is the Son of God and God himself (e.g. Heb. 1:5–8).

Paul writes what the purpose of the law is and what kind of relationship the law has as regards believing in Jesus. Here are some meanings of the law, and at the same time, differences compared to the gospel:

  1. (Gal. 3:19, 22) The law was given to show iniquity. That way people realize that they have transgressed against God's will. Paul compares these people, who are under God's judgment, to those in prison. Usually those who were imprisoned were waiting for the sentence to be carried out, and crucifixion was the death penalty. The significance of Christ is that he gave himself as a sacrifice for those who have transgressed against God's will (Gal. 1:4; 3:13). Jesus releases the condemned from prison to the freedom of Christians (Gal. 3:23–25).

  2. (Gal. 3:21) The law does not give life. The law has no ability or mechanism that could bring about something new in a person. Faith in Jesus Christ gives birth to new things in us. Through faith we receive the Holy Spirit, who transforms us. Only a transformed person can follow God's will.

  3. (Gal. 4:1–3) God's law acts as guardian and manager. If there were no laws in the world to limit evil, the world would be in chaos. Law and social order limit evildoing (See Rom. 13:1–10).

Through faith we receive Abraham's promise and are God's children. Therefore, we receive the same blessing as Abraham received. At the same time, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Read Gal. 3:26–29).

Baptism is not a separate thing from receiving this blessing. Namely, in baptism, Jesus Christ is put on us. Putting on Christ means all the things that the Letter to the Galatians talks about regarding Jesus:

1) He sacrificed himself for us. This same love for us still exists.

2) Baptism also means Christ living in us, and thus it means renewal. Because of Christ we receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit quickens us. Paul teaches more about baptism in his other letters.

In connection with baptism, Paul mentions that now there is no longer male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free, but all are one. In some translations, this has been explained, quite correctly, that it no longer matters if someone is, for example, Greek. But in what respect is this irrelevant?

The whole section has been about the law and living under the law. The Jews boasted that they were given the law of God. This was part of their special status as God's own people. On the other hand, men had more responsibilities in following the law – a certain kind of special status too. Social slavery or, on the other hand, social freedom have no spiritual relevance either. In Christ, there is no special status whatsoever, because people have been freed through the liberating work of Christ to live as free children of God.

God has always had a plan to save humanity from its problems (Read Gal. 4:1-7). This plan had to wait, according to what Paul says in the Letter to the Galatians, until “faith came", “until Christ came", until "the date set by the Father", or until "the fullness of time" (Gal. 3:23, 24; 4:2, 4). This plan to save mankind was made known by God from the beginning of time. Even in the first pages of the Bible, there is a promise of a seed, which will bruise the serpent's head, and the serpent will bruise the heel of this seed (Genesis 3:15). Paul wrote about the same seed when he discussed the seed, i.e. the offspring, promised to Abraham (Gal. 3:16). As soon as the world had gone its own way, God said that he cared about the fate of mankind.

Above, Paul has compared the meaning of the law to a prison guard and people to those imprisoned because of the law. Now the main words that he uses to describe the human problem are slavery and heir. In the Roman society, heirs were under guardians and managers until they came of age. These guardians and managers were themselves slaves. Their task was to educate the heirs or lead them to school. In some situations, the heir was thus even below the slave – under his control. Behind the word ‘heir’ there is the idea that even the Jews must embrace faith in Jesus Christ to reach adulthood. Without faith, they will remain under guardians and managers.

"The elementary principles the world" are the order that God has placed in this world. Even in creation, God established, among other things, that one must not harm another. This order has been in effect since the beginning. As such, there is nothing wrong with this order – however, the problem for humans is that no one can follow it their whole lives. This is what Paul has been declaring throughout his letter. That is why even this good thing turns into an elementary principle that leads us to prison or slavery, condemned. We must be freed from this slavery or captivity. Because of Christ's work, we are set free and receive the Holy Spirit. And obeying God's will happens in a new way too.

After a set time, God sent his Son to redeem the people from under the law (Gal. 4:4-7). These verses convey how the entire Godhead works to further our salvation. All along God has had a plan to save the world. This plan was revealed in the fact that Jesus Christ was sent from heaven. Jesus is not only a man born into the world, but also the Son of God.

The Son of God was sent from heaven to be born as a man to solve the problem of the human being, who was spiritually condemned and captive. He solved this problem by coming himself to be in the state in which man is, i.e. under the law. This means that the Son of God became a companion for the condemned human. This can be clearly seen in Paul's example – Jesus comes in his own presence to show mercy and give himself as a sacrifice for man. A condemned human being receives the love and presence of Jesus. Because this solution exists, God can send into people's hearts the Holy Spirit, who will praise God the Father in the right way in the Christian's heart.

The Holy Spirit has a close relationship with Jesus Christ because he is the Spirit of the Son of God. In the Letter to the Romans, Paul points out that this Spirit is the Spirit of both God the Father and Jesus (Rom. 8:9–11). Thus, having the Holy Spirit living in you also means having a close relationship with the Father and the Son. Because of all this, you can be called an heir. You will have an eternal inheritance in heaven. Truly, God wants this for every one of us.

Slavery was one of the two main words Paul used to describe man's problem before the law. Paul uses the words redeem and redemption when discussing Christ's work (Gal. 3:13; 4:5). Redemption is a payment of e.g. buying slaves for oneself. God used his own Son as a ransom payment so that we could be freed from slavery under the law. The ransom payment is so great that we will be set free from that slavery to the freedom and status of the children of God. Thus, because of the Son's sacrifice, we can be called children or sons – the word used in the original language is sons.

Now Paul has in many ways given reasons for faith in Jesus as the foundation of life. In the following sections, Paul strongly appeals to the Galatians to believe as he himself believes and teaches.