The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians because He wanted to turn the Galatian people away from some bad theology. Bad theology always results in bad behavior or to state it another way, many (maybe most) of our personal and practical problems are theological. Theology affects the way you live.
The issue that is raised Galatians 3 is one that relates to every one of us. If you have followed the argument of the first two chapters of Galatians, you know that we are made right with God only by the grace of God. It is a gift; it is not something we can earn or deserve. We also know that God wants us to not simply profess faith . . .He wants us to live in faith. He wants a relationship with us. But this raises a question. What do I need to do to live like a child of God? In other words, “How do I grow? How do we get to the point where actually start to live righteously?” It is the theological combined with the practical.
Appeal to Experience
You may not have caught this question the first time we read the text,
Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. 2 Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3 How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? 4 Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it?
5 I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ. (italics mine)
The gospel is an announcement of actual historical events (Christ Crucified and raised for us) before it gives us instructions about how to live. Before we can truly live the Christian life we need to “see the picture of his death on the cross”. In other words, we need to understand that we are made right with God through the work of Christ and not our own efforts. Once that fact is embraced we can move on to the question about living as a believer.
The question is raised in verse 3: “After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own effort?”
This is where we see the relevance of this passage. Do we believe we are saved by grace and then live as believers by discipline and diligence? Paul says this is faulty theology! He says we were saved by trusting Christ and we grow the same way. It is not about our ability, it is about us drawing close to Him and trusting the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
Timothy Keller writes,
Instead of hoping God will remove our anger or simply exercising will-power against it, we should ask: if I am being angry and unforgiving, what is it that I think I need so much? What is being withheld that I think that I must have if I am going to feel complete, to have hope, to be a person of worth? Usually, deep anger is because of something like that. It might be that we want comfort above all other things, and someone has made our lives harder, so we grow angry with them. It might be that we’re worshiping other people’s approval and so get angry with anyone who in some way thwarts our bid for popularity and respect.
So the key to growth is finding our source of life and strength in the Lord and not in any other things (like comfort, respect, approval, or even peace) that we think we need. We grow as we come to depend on Him alone for all that we need and are.
Argument from Scripture
Paul now illustrates this truth that we grow by trusting Christ and not by performance by turning to the life of Abraham.
6 In the same way, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” 7 The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God.
8 What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would declare the Gentiles to be righteous because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.
10 But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” 11 So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” 12 This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, “It is through obeying the law that a person has life.”
13 But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14 Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:8-14)
God “counted Abraham as righteous”. This word “count” (or in some versions, “reckoned”) is an accounting term. Let’s say someone intentionally transfers a lot of money to my account (I’d be happy to give you an account number). Who does that money belong to? Even though I did nothing, the money is in my account, it’s in my name.
Paul does not say that Abraham became righteous. He was declared righteous. It was not what Abraham did, it was God did! And this is exactly what happens to us when we turn to Jesus. His goodness is transferred to our account and our brokenness and sin is placed on His ledger. We are now righteous in God’s sight.
In Romans 4 Paul pointed out that even though Abraham was the first to be circumcised, this was AFTER he was declared righteous. In other words, the circumcision was not required for Abraham to be made right with God. Abraham was right with God because He trusted God’s promise. Every believer is saved in exactly the same way (Old Testament or New). In Romans Paul says the true spiritual descendent of Abraham is not the one who is like him outwardly (circumcision) but the person who has the kind of faith that Abraham had. (Romans 2:28)
Paul speaks practically and from personal experience. He says, if you insist on being saved by your own efforts you too will be frustrated and condemned. It is impossible to save yourself. It is just as impossible to make yourself grow.
How Does This Help in My Christian Growth?
I hope this concept of being made right by grace ALONE is familiar territory to you. I hope it is becoming so familiar that you are starting to understand that we do not save ourselves by being good. We receive salvation (as a gift) by trusting Christ. However, Let’s get back to the question we raised earlier was: “Once I am saved, how do I grow in the faith?”
Paul says we grow the same way we are initially made right with God: by trusting Him. What this means is: we must learn to trust God’s Word and the guidance of God’s Spirit more than we trust our instinct, our schemes, or even our spiritual disciplines. We must trust His agenda and not our own. To put it another way: We have to stop trying to FIX things and instead just do what He tells us to do!
We must stop trying to “fix” people and entrust them to the Lord. We have to stop trying to be popular, cool, insightful and just rest in Him. We must stop making everything about US and put the focus on Him!!!
There are two wrong roads people take in response to God’s grace. First, there is the road of reckless behavior. These people conclude that since we are made right with God we can now do anything we want and still end up in Heaven. (This is called antinomianism). They say, “God is going to forgive me so it doesn’t matter what I do.”
The person who feels they can live any way they want does not understand the gospel. They are actually mocking the Gospel. In essence they say, God saved me because He wants to have a relationship with me and walk with me . . . now I am going to do whatever I want. Does that sound like someone who has turned to Christ as their Rescue?
This would be like getting married and cheating with someone else on your Honeymoon! That’s not love or commitment! That is simply a sham! God doesn’t just save us FROM Hell. He saves us for ABUNDANT LIVING.
The other extreme is like the Rabbi’s. We set up all kinds of rules to help ourselves live better. Usually this ends up in our thinking everyone should follow these same rules so they live better too. This is well intentioned but wrong! When we do this we add to the gospel. We make it about our ability and not the Lord’s ability to finish what He started.
We grow in Christ when we are more concerned with our relationship with Christ than with our performance. We grow when we stop looking at us and consistently look to Him.
This is what the sacrifice of Isaac was all about in Genesis 22. God told Abraham one day that He wanted him to take his son . . . the very son God promised Him, and sacrifice him on a mountain. Abraham did what God told him to do and God stopped him before he actually killed his son. This is not so much Abraham proving his faith, it is Abraham living out his faith! Abraham trusted the command of the Lord more than his own reasoning ability. This didn’t make any sense to Abraham! It was not something a “rational” person would do. But Abraham trusted God even over his own reasoning. He trusted the Lord enough to believe there was some way for all of this to make sense.
To grow in Christ means to continue to trust the Lord that saved us by His grace. It means we will:
- Trust that He will give us what we need. So, what we don’t have, we simply trust that it is something we don’t need or else God would have provided it. We are content. We don’t need to measure ourselves by what others possess.
- Trust that He will lead us where we need to go. We don’t try to emulate the experience of others; we will go where God leads us. We will serve Him where we are planted without feeling jealous or inferior (or superior) to others.
- We will dare to treat others in the way that He commands (with love and forgiveness) and not worry about whether or not the other person is deserving or whether it “seems fair”.
- We will leave vengeance to the Lord. In other words, instead of stewing over our hurts we will leave them with the Lord. We will abandon desires to get revenge. We will forgive.
- We will read the Bible listening for God’s correction and instruction even when what he tells us goes contrary to what we think we should do.
- We learn to find our greatest delight and pleasure in the Lord and not in what the world can give us. It is about concluding that “as long as I have the Lord (or He has me) I have everything that I need.
We see this mentality at the end of Psalm 73. Asaph has been comparing his life to those around him and is getting kind of grumpy. Then he does what all of us need to do: he has a little conversation with himself.
21 Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
and I was all torn up inside.
22 I was so foolish and ignorant—
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
23 Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever. (Psalm 73:21-26)
Do you see what he does? He reminds himself that when you are right with God you have everything you need.
Let me quote Tim Keller again as he applies this to a problem with forgiveness.
You say, “I’m having trouble forgiving somebody. I know God forgives me, but I can’t seem to forgive this person.” You have to ask, “Why can’t I forgive that person?” Almost always it’s because there’s something that person is keeping from you that you feel like you have to have, and if you don’t have it, then there’s something deep inside that makes you feel worthless and incomplete. (It may be approval, love, respect, credit, appreciation, gratitude, or even an apology).
You have to look at Jesus and say, “If I have You, I don’t need any of those other things.” What that does is it demotes the hurt and desire to the place where you can get over it. You can say, “Why am I still so angry? I have Him. (Italics are my additions)
We can apply this to anywhere we struggle in our Christian life. What do we think we need that the Lord has not already given to us in Christ? Whose approval are we seeking and why? When we discover what it is that we feel we need “in addition” to what God has given, we will know where we need to repent and seek his forgiveness.
We experience the “rest” God offers us when we stop trying to perform and start doing what He tells us to do. It comes down to a simple question I ask myself again and again: “Do I trust Him or don’t I?” It is not about my working harder. It is about surrendering to His Lordship more completely.
This is actually quite revolutionary. When we learn to give it all to Jesus we have begun to learn what it really means to walk by faith and not by sight.
Do you remember when Peter tried to walk on the water? He did fine as long as He kept His eyes focused on Jesus. As soon as he looked at the waves he sank. The same thing would have happened if Peter had turned around and said to the other disciples, “Hey, Guys! Look at me!” Once you stop relying on grace you will sink.
Where do you struggle in your life right now? Is it possible that you have lost sight of the Lord’s sufficiency? Take the issue with which you struggle and ask, “What is it that I fear? What is it that I want? What is it that I think I am being deprived of?” Then ask the follow up question: Has the Lord not given me EVERYTHING that I need? Are you guilty of looking past your greatest blessing?
We all fall into this trap. Even as believers we tend to measure each other by performance. As a result, we become performers ourselves. And when you become a performer it becomes a game. Our faith becomes a performance rather than a relationship. God has not called us to perform. He has called us to walk with Him!
As we learn to LIVE every day by faith, trusting in God’s ability rather than our own, we will be able to look back and see that we have begun to change . . . we will start to look a little more like Jesus.
 Timothy Keller GALATIANS FOR YOU (Good Book Company, 2013) p. 69
 Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).